IFH 240: How to Work the Film & Television Markets with Heather Hale

Right-click here to download the MP3

Today’s guest is Heather Hale, author of How to Work the Film and TV Markets: A Guide for Content Creators. Heather Hale is a film and television director, screenwriter and producer with over 50 hours of credits. She is currently under contract to direct an indie romantic comedy.

She directed, produced and co-wrote the million-dollar feature Absolute Killers (2011) which was marketed by distributors at Le Marche du Film and the American Film Market. She wrote the $5.5 million dollars Lifetime Original Movie The Courage to Love (2000) which starred Vanessa Williams, Stacy Keach, Gil Bellows and Diahann Carroll.

Heather’s new book How to Work the Film & TV Markets: A Guide for Content Creators was just published this summer by Focal Press/Routledge while her Story$elling: How to Develop, Market and Pitch Film & TV Projects will be published in 2018 by Michael Weise Productions.

For over two decades, Heather has served as an international keynote speaker, teacher, moderator, panelist and custom workshop facilitator for film and TV markets, festivals, writers workshops, colleges and universities and Chambers of Commerce around the globe, including creative adventure weeklong retreats such as StoryTellers on WalkAbout.

Enjoy my conversation with Heather Hale.

Alex Ferrari 0:34
I'd like to welcome to the show. Heather Hale, thank you so much for being on the show, Heather.

Heather Hale 2:50
It's my honor. Thanks for having me, Alex.

Alex Ferrari 2:52
So before we get into it, I really want to know how did you get into this crazy business?

Heather Hale 2:58
Oh, gosh, people always ask your breaking story. And you probably know, well is anyone we all have like five times do we have to break back in and you know, you can never rest on your laurels. And so I don't even know which one you know

Alex Ferrari 3:12
The first one. Let's just start with the very beginning.

Heather Hale 3:14
I don't even know what the first one is. I will say the who knows. But what most people look at as my break in was the courage to love which was a lifetime original movie. And the speed version to that was my aunt passed away. So this is a top total Hollywood Story. So with, you know, dog groomers and hairdressers. My aunt passed away she and my parents became executives of her trust and that we became we had to handle a townhouse in Pasadena. And foolishly I didn't grab it because you know, I wanted to live in LA not Pasadena. And selfishly, I'm such an idiot. I such

Alex Ferrari 3:56
I would have taken that bran

Heather Hale 3:58
I'm an idiot. I appreciate that now gorgeous garden jacuzzi. Like, I'm an idiot. Okay, we've established I'm an idiot. So anyway, that we became executives or trust, and my parents couldn't afford to debt service that and their own mortgage and all that. So we had to rent it out and we had to rent it out ASAP. And so we're literally like, packing up the garage of a woman who never moved in 40 some odd years, while we're grieving while we're dealing with the wake and all of that, while there's a moving truck with the other people moving in like it was that crazy. So as I'm moving banker's boxes out, and the new renters are moving banker's boxes in. They one of the wife says, hey, I've got a great idea for it. That would make a terrific movie. I understand you're a screenwriter. And how many times have we all heard that like every Hey, I have an idea. You do all the work. And you use all your relationships and resources and we'll split the profits and probably I'll sue you for stealing it. Like it's just never out. But I sat her down and I said, Okay, like, I don't want to do this, but let's do it. Because I'm an idiot. We've established Yes. And we literally sat there with a plate of brownies and ice tea, and I handed her a legal pad of paper and a pen. And I said, Let's write a deal memo. And I want it in your handwriting. So we can't say you didn't know what this was. And we wrote out this deal memo. And I was really careful. She claimed that her son was Vanessa Williams music producer. And how many times have we heard people say, I couldn't get it to so and so I can do this. Yeah, so I had her put, you know, my name is XYZ, Heather is XYZ. My son is Vanessa Williams music producer, and she put his name in there. And I will get this script to this. Vanessa Williams, like, that's that that piece was what made me do it. And so then I told her, I would mentor her and help her and support her and she wanted to write it. And I was just going to help her as a friend from the sidelines. And so over the next three months, I read and read on the research junkie, you know, most writers are voracious readers. So I knew everything about New Orleans in the 1830s. And this woman is amazing. The first African American nun ordained by the Catholic Church is really powerful story. And over the three months, she wrote back and faxed me This tells you how All right, me. That's me, like five pages describing a room. And that's as much as she had done in three months. And she begged me, Heather, can you please write this? And I said, Okay. And so I wrote this outline. And we got the outline to Vanessa Williams. She kept her word, she was good to her word. And then Vanessa Williams got it to Emily. Gosh, Gershon, at the William Morris at the time. And Emily called me we had sent her a five page outline, which bear in mind was really well researched, it was historically accurate adaptation was a powerful story. And we sent it to her and my associate, in her zeal and enthusiasm. I don't want to say lied, but eagerly told her wait till you read the script. It's fantastic. course, there was no script, of course, right. It's just an outline, just a five page treatment of what the beat outline was really well written in prose, really, really engaging of what we were going to do. Sure. And so I get a call from Emily Gerson Sainz, who says, I understand the script. No, I didn't get a call. I was told. Emily wants to see the script. She and Vanessa are going to be at the Cannes Film Festival in 10 days. So could you send it to him?

Alex Ferrari 7:55
Sure.

Heather Hale 7:56
And there, it was a god moment. And I literally picked up the phone before I had time to think and quit my job. Wow. And I told my boyfriend, I'm not leaving this computer. Until I have that script. Done. Like, this is my break. It was scary as all get out. And I called Emily, which was very terrifying. Like one of the first people I've ever called, was like the head of William Morris, who's waiting for a script that's not written from me. And I gently said, so how firm The date is that deadline? She goes, she goes, Oh, bless her heart. bless her heart. Oh, honey, it's not from not for me at all. I I love the project, the NASA loves the project. And Vanessa and I are going to be in Cannes at the same time, loving the project. So I'm not sure when that will occur again, when the two of us will be together interested in your project. At that moment, we will be and so I went, Okay, thanks. I got the phone. And then I realized I didn't have 10 days I had nine because I had FedEx it. So I literally wrote and wrote and wrote and then I would hit print fall asleep. My boyfriend would read I had girlfriends, people writers group. So I would like email them the 12 pages I'd written I would email them the 17 pages I'd written I, I would sleep and then I would wake up and I get back at it. And I would put in people's notes, fix all the typos keep cranking so I had literally copied the treatment, threw it into final draft first script I'd ever written and just went for it. And it got set up. And it was a five and a half million dollar feature on lifetime and 2000 and then you know, I had to break it all over again. But let's call that my break.

Alex Ferrari 9:51
That's that was the most passive aggressive way of saying the deadline is the deadline. Right? But but good for her because It was true no and you know what and you know what? Yeah but that description that for people listening that that description of how she she spoke to you eautiful is exactly how people in LA talk in those positions, though then general everyday No. Generally never say no. They're generally never like they are there are the you know the art golds of the world. There are but but a lot of them will do this kind of passive aggressive. Yeah. And it's, it's honestly an art form.

Heather Hale 10:34
It's an art. It's like on my vision board to be unflappable. And if you ever if you've listened to Shonda Rhimes, his latest book, I listen to it on audio tape, I love to listen to like Tina Fey and Amy Schumer all their books, Andy kailyn on when they narrate on their audio books. But so listening to Shonda Rhimes, which was awesome. I, you know, she coined the word badassery. She said, you know, they say it's not a word unless it's in the dictionary. But in my Microsoft Word, I right clicked and added it to my dictionary, so it's a word. So I have like, unflappable, badassery on my vision board. That's my goal is to be able to not cuss and swear not raise my voice, not lose my temper, but say so eloquently. And maybe it's passive aggressive, but it is an art form exactly what you mean and still be smiling and look like you're being courteous in such a team player when you're really laying down the bottom line.

Alex Ferrari 11:30
And that is an art form. And this Yeah, without question. So So let's talk about markets, film markets, television markets, that's one of your expertise is, which it all started there, right? Because I had to get it to cat you have to get the cat. Exactly. So can you explain to the audience what the difference is between film festivals and film markets?

Heather Hale 11:51
Sure. I think that's actually one of the least understood and even people who have been in the business forever. Because you'll have people say, it's funny. I never know whether it's can or con because I get corrected no matter how I said someone's gonna correct me. So they'll say they're going to Cannes. But are they going to the festival of the market because the festival in the market are on opposite sides of the cross that you know this promenade, and they're going on at the exact same time. And people can fly around the world and realize that they have credentials, they've paid two or $3,000 in here and there at the festival when they meant to be at the market and everybody they want or or worse I mean at least that you can probably Jerry rig but what if you're in the wrong city at the wrong week, you go to the Berlin you know, the main event to go to the European film market. And you ended up at Berlinale at you know and or you're at the different the TV markets and you're in the wrong week. Everybody you paid 3000 or 5000 to go see is not even there. Yeah, so I think it's really important. So so so real clearly like festivals, we were talking about Sundance before we went live fest. If you think of show business, you can think of the festivals as the show and markets as the business of the entertainment industry. great analogy because festivals are open to the public. Usually, they're all about audience enjoyment. They're all about the craft, they celebrate the love of the art. It can be about a specific genre, or locale and it's all about community. So film fans and TV lovers from the public can come and enjoy premieres fun parties, they can vote, you know, especially for audience awards. But these competitions are curated by taste making gatekeepers and they award prizes based on their judgement of quality. And the audience response and critical reviews is what everybody's looking for. And that's what can launch these surprise breakout hits are dashed the hopes of what everyone thought was gonna be a winner. And as you know, there are no prizes at markets.

Alex Ferrari 14:06
The only prize is a check.

Heather Hale 14:08
There's no prizes, right and the press are often blocked from the screenings because they don't want spoilers leaked. So markets are the entertainment industries trade shows and like everything else in show business, they tend to be more glamorous, faster paced and more intimidating than any other business sector. And so these markets getting on the market floor is typically restricted to accredited industry professionals. So you have to have bought a badge you have to be a player to get on that floor. And then those products or content, the film and television things you might have seen shown at film festivals or television festivals are what is bought and sold business to business and then turned around and parlayed to the to the wider public. So there is this symbiotic relief shipped between the two circuits. So it's possible that a film that does fantastic at Sundance gets picked up by a distributor and is then sold internationally, like a cute little Little Miss Sunshine is bought at Sundance, and then they turn around and sell it to Europe, that European film market. So and then the same, the same thing can be in reverse. Maybe a product does really well at a market. And they choose to use the film festival platform as their promotional marketing to create some audience awareness and create buzz. So

Alex Ferrari 15:36
It's at Sundance every year,

Heather Hale 15:38
Every year, Toronto, Midnight Madness, you name it. So one of the things I think that helps put things in perspective is the size and scope of the material presented. So if you look at like a typical Cannes Film Festival, there's like 21 films that are in competition officially. And then right across the promenade is Lamar Shea to film, which is the Cannes Film market. And there's 3030 500 films at the market. So that shows you the size and scope because what's being sold at the market are shown or screen or viewed, is literally the entire year's inventory, and a backlog of the year before and what. So it's a good year to three years worth of assets that are competing in this incredible, incredible den of noise, to try to make a blip on the radar for anyone to notice you like it the one of the most humbling experiences ever, is to walk on a market floor with your little one sheet. Right? And think My poor baby. And I will tell you, it kicks you in the teeth and says, Is your logline strong enough is your pitch like you're competing with George Clooney on the market floor looking for money, right? Like that's there. I mean, you don't normally run into them, but they are they're raising money. And so your materials have to be so not just slick and professional. But the concepts and the execution has to be so viscerally grabbing, that someone's willing to risk money on them. And so it really does make you take a step back and check yourself that nobody cares about your hopes and dreams and aspirations. They care about are you bringing them something they can make money off of?

Alex Ferrari 17:31
Can you talk a little bit? What can you name a few of the big markets that people should look out for?

Heather Hale 17:36
Well, of course the can the Lamar shaida film is the Cannes market. The European film market is probably the second largest now the American Film market is the third. And then and then there's there's a ton of others. There's the Hong Kong film art, there's the Asian film mark, there's TIFF, com, then titanosaurs, the Latin American one, but another thing that's kind of bubbled up, which I think is really fascinating and helpful for independent filmmakers, is you have the film markets over here and you have the film or the of the film and TV markets over here. And you have film and TV festivals. Oh, and for the just real quickly for TV markets. You have Nat p, which is the National Association television program executives, you have real screen you have kids screen again, the Hong Kong film art is both you have the MIPS we call them the MIPS sweet, so there's mipi mc doc MC formats. And then you have like Nat p in Europe, there's just a ton, Bogota has one. And but in between, you know, you've seen I'm sure that the independent film arena that was such at the golden era in the 1970s people are talking about the Renaissance that we're seeing, and the golden era of television that we're seeing, which is really kind of the shift of independent filmmaking going to television because we have this convergence of film and TV, where the what we call over the top television, Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, these, you know which are almost telcos right there, they're almost ISP fees that are offering this is all the issues of net neutrality, but that that is an opportunity for them to create these they create content and deliver content. So in the middle, where the independent filmmaker can often get lost because the studios are doing the huge blockbusters and the networks are doing their channels. What's bubbling up is this co production market scene. And that's where things like cinema in Rotterdam and the Berlin Berlin all a co co pro market, which is over like while the European film market is going on. And while the Berlinale Film Festival is going on, they kind of seamlessly overlap with the Berlinale co production market, which is where independent producers can find financing where they can find production partners where they can find distributors were willing to see projects that are works in progress. And so here's another difference between film festivals and markets. People will tell you, like, you know, as a screenwriter, never send your script out until it's just kick ass as good as it could possibly be. Right? That's it. Okay. So with films, they tell you never to submit to a festival until it's perfect, right? Because it's being judged. So a lot of people miss perceive that and come over to the market space and say, Oh, I can't show it to them. I can't do this because it's a market. Well, they're accustomed to seeing things with holes, and placeholders. And we're going to do the special effects on this. And, you know, they've even done studies where people had missing scenes or animation, they didn't even know that the animation wasn't there, because they were so caught up emotionally in the moment. So a market there, they're happy to see a talent reel for a possible reality show host or a character that we're going to build a world around in their mail you, they're accustomed to seeing, like, let's say you're shooting an independent film, and you're not going to be ready by the market. But your opening sequence is awesome. You just show that as your sizzle reel or trailer or just some selected scenes, and at the market that professionals use to scene products in every stage of development. So that's yet another difference that people you know, will come with the wrong misperceptions that limit their opportunities.

Alex Ferrari 21:39
Now, who should attend markets in general? As far as filmmakers are concerned? Like, should it be at what level of of the process should they go?

Heather Hale 21:48
Well, I think it depends on what your goals are and what your product is. So you will see on the net p floor or you know, MIPCOM IP TV, on the TV markets, people who are not in the industry at all, who might have a sizzle reel on themselves often, or an idea or concept. And they're trying to sell a game show they're trying to sell a reality show they're trying to sell some nonfiction thing like Adam ruins everything, you know, some sort of an edutainment type product. And even if they all they have is a one sheet that's a good one sheet and a good concept. They can literally you know, buy a badge and go pitch almost door to door You know, they're going sweet to sweet. That's another thing. You know this, but maybe your listeners don't. You look at something like the AFM at the Loews Hotel in Santa Monica. They literally move every bed out of every room. And every suite becomes a sales office. So some market floors have booths like a trade show, where you know, you go from booth to booth to booth on a market floor nappy has these towers where you go up to the suites, and again, they've moved the beds out. So you walk in, and there's the table and chairs, and there could even be cubbies set up with offices for receptionist and all that, actually at the Loews hotel. I was one of two people sleeping there, during the AFM, which was you talk about the shining light, step out into an empty hotel, and you're the I'm not even like there's no room service. There's nobody there. Just closed down. It's It's surreal. So that's, I think. So anyway, to answer your question, Who goes, so if you're a director, you want to go over to festivals, because that's where they're celebrating you. At the markets, it's largely producers. So you might be a writer, producer, director, producer. So if you're wearing a producer hat, and you're trying to raise money, or you're trying to initiate distribution interest, that's a really good place to be another way a lot of producers can use markets that they may not be aware of, is not on the first few days. But on the last couple of days, you can go in with your really great one sheet or sizzle reel. And when the distributors are have gone through the bulk of their meetings, because remember, they've paid 30,000, probably to be there. So you show up selling them and they've paid a ton of money to sell. You're in their way. You're in their way. But the last few days, they are thinking about the next market and they're trying to build relationships as well. And the cocktail parties are all great opportunities for this. But let's say you come in and you've got your indie film project, you got a million dollar project and you have a hit list of 10 stars that you think are really good. It's really a good idea to take that simple bulleted list. don't bore them just go in. Here's my one sheet. Here's my logline. These are the 10 stars I'm thinking of, and you might be blown away where they say this person's not marquee value. This person will never get distribution. I like this person, this person is really good. And someone on that list you might not be aware, is really huge in the breath block or the mint, the new MIT, you know, might be something that you weren't aware was a company, a person who would really attract the Chinese market, you know, I'm always trying to think of the other markets. Or they may say, Oh, I like all of these eight mafioso, guys, these character actors, and they're all really good. Have you thought about x, y, z, and they adds names to your list. And that is priceless information. Because it and they may tell you look, if you get any one of these people off this list, come back to me, and we'll talk about a distribution. It may not be a distribution commitment, because you know, it's hard to say, Yes, I will distribute your film when it's an unknown commodity. Of course, it's not in the can. So that's, I mean, that's the thing is your your film is probably never worth more than when it's nothing yet.

Alex Ferrari 26:03
And to a certain extent, you're right,

Heather Hale 26:05
Right. Everyone can imagine in their mind's eye the very best it could possibly be.

Alex Ferrari 26:11
But a lot of times also do you do you agree that depending on the cast, yeah. If the cast is big enough, there will be commitments to distribute then in there purely because they know if you can afford Nicolas Cage? Yes, you're the project is going to be at at least a somewhat of a benchmark that I know I could sell, because you're not gonna hire Nicolas Cage and do a $20,000 movie.

Heather Hale 26:37
Right? Well, I will. Yes, I agree. But I will say that there's two parts to that. One part is that if you get Nicolas Cage, like I got Vanessa Williams true. It's not you getting the money. It's probably Nicolas Cage, or Nicolas Cage is contacts, resources, referrals. So one of the things I suggest people do is make their hitlist for who they want as their stars for lead actors, and look and see who's got a production company and go get to the production company of the star you want. And let them be partners with you because now they're that much more financially incentivized to come on board and be a real partner. And then that's when the ball starts rolling. You know, my dad always used to say that the most precious asset in Hollywood is momentum. its momentum, you know, and its traction getting people to have it's, it's making your enthusiasm contagious, so that you can get some traction so that you can create some momentum momentum because you can work for 10 years on a project and blow dust off of it. And if you get the right people to shine their light, man, things happen fast, you know, that's the overnight success. So I think that is a huge part of it. And then the other part I will say, is, a lot of times people make their hit list and they're hit the hit list reveals a lot about you. If you have Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep on your hitless. They exactly they may be very polite because they're so polite, but they're laughing at your neophyte ism, right, because it's so delusional. But if you come in with some really amazing actors from say, Breaking Bad, or you know what I mean? Like, some animals obtainable? Yeah, if you mentioned their name at your family holiday. No one else at the table who's not in the business will know who you're talking about? Or maybe you show them their picture and they go oh, yeah, yeah, I know that guy. But the difference is with a distributor, they know that the caliber like David Morris, if you remember, if you know who he is, he was in the Green Mile. He's a fantasy or Freddie Highmore. You know, right now in the in the good doctor, and he was in Bates Motel. So Freddie Highmore at a holiday function. The average person not in the business, Michael, I don't know who that is. Well, do you watch the good doctor? Oh, yeah. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 28:59
I do. Okay, that's about Rob's rush,

Heather Hale 29:03
Obvious rush. He deserves a Lifetime Achievement Award already. I love him. But what I would say is that when you come to a distributor with someone like that, they may not be, you know, cinema marquee value that he can open a movie by himself, of course. But what that tells the distributor is the caliber of acting is going to attract other very strong actors. It's going to attract good directors, it's going to attract people who are going to that's going to raise the bar of their, of their work. So that so if you came with a feat, it's like, in the old days, you needed your Sylvester Stallone or Van Damme to sell DVDs in Asia. Sure, right. But it's changing. It's changing a lot. So now the mass, you know of YouTube competition. It's quality that rises up So having a good concept well written, well executed with really good stars. I think our star culture while it's still hugely important, you look at any advertisement, it's all about celebrity. But it's changing because of the fragmentation of the dial and what the Internet has done to revolutionize our business.

Alex Ferrari 30:18
So you mean Steven Seagal versus mike tyson is gonna have problems? Not if they're fighting. That was the that was the most AF me. AFM movie. This year.

Heather Hale 30:31
You remember when it was a couple Emmys ago where they put all the YouTube stars on the red carpet? No, I didn't. Okay, this was a couple of years ago. And they took all these YouTube stars with millions of followers. And they thought, oh, we're gonna tap into their site, guys. And what you realize is asking questions on a red carpet is a skill set that Ryan Seacrest and the people who have earned the right to eat, they're like, they didn't know who they were talking to. They were disrespectful. And they thought that their 15 minutes of fame was going to carry them on red carpet. And people forget, this is a business. Right? And so I think it's fine to stop cast, maybe one YouTube slab. And if you are a YouTube celeb, then then cool, that's you. But make sure you populate that cast with rock solid actors around you. Because everyone in the business can see through a fame run.

Alex Ferrari 31:27
And it's getting it's getting like before, it was all about how many followers you have. And I have to a certain extent, a lot of casting decisions now are made on social media. If the if there's two actors of equal caliber, equal credits,

Heather Hale 31:44
That's assuming they're equal caliber and equal credit. Exactly. It's not usually that case,

Alex Ferrari 31:49
Usually not, but if you assume that they're, you know, at the same playing field, yeah, I'm gonna go with the one that has the bigger social follow.

Heather Hale 31:55
Absolutely. But they also have ways of assessing your digital footprint. Like I have a widget in mind when I look on Twitter. I know how many of your followers are fake? I mean, you bought?

Alex Ferrari 32:11
That's before?

Heather Hale 32:13
Yeah. And a huge thing is your engagement. Like are you perceived to be authentic in your engagement with a legit tribe? Right, you know, we have our our mutual friend, Richard bato, the are bound stage 32, his crowdsourcing for filmmakers book is all about that, like it's being authentic to a community. So I think it's really important that people, like it's really important to have a social media following and a social media presence and be authentic. But it's like anything else that, you know, it's the quality of how you do it, you can't just buy a million followers and slap up promotional stuff. Because first of all, those million followers probably aren't even real and don't care. So they're not going to leave in droves. But the real people are, if all you ever do is throw up, you know, JPEGs of your book that you're selling,

Alex Ferrari 33:01
Right! A perfect example I always use is there's this filmmaker that I was working with on a project years ago, and they spent I'm gonna say they spent like about four or $5,000 buying views. Yep. of their trailer. Yeah. And nothing and we all know it. Right. So but they thought the like the end, I think they got I think it got up to about a million and a half 2 million views that they spent money. It all spent. Yeah, nothing organic, no interaction, no anything. But they were touting that to distributors. Like, look, we've gotten 2 million hits on our trailer, give us money for our movie. There's an audience out there for it. Yeah. And that might have worked in 1995. Exactly. But not today. And people can definitely tell when it's, look, it's not hard to find out if you're if they're fake or not. You just have to look at the engagement. And even the engagement they're trying to fake now. And it's still so difficult to fake real engagement.

Heather Hale 34:00
Yeah, I know someone a very high profile author, producer, TV person. So I am and they've passed away and they were very beloved. So I won't throw them under the bus because that would be disrespectful. Sure. But they hired friends of mine to go online into the chat rooms and take on this was way back in the day. So it is not new. You said chat. Yeah. Yeah, take on personas. So they would have three, four or five different personas each and get into debates and arguments with themselves, right like and be trolls and jerks and you know, so that other people would jump in and then they'd get out of that chat room and go start somewhere else. So that Pete that there was buzz and engagement. But I think that, you know, first of all, people are really savvy to that now. And then the flip side of that is too bad because the person who really busts their tail to get a million or 2 million followers legitimately and then goes to Bandy that about the marketplace. Now everybody's pretty jaded, and even if you earned them and spent 15 years creating that following that, like, yeah, yeah, but that that comes back to the quality of the content and the material.

Alex Ferrari 35:08
You know, and also and also, and I know we're going on a tangent with social media, but it's important in regards to what we're doing is also the the proof is in the pudding, you know, like, yeah, you know, I'll tell you right really quickly, if you're real or not purely buy a bike, do a post, yeah, do a post and we'll see how many retweets they get, or how many reactions they get, and see how much traffic I can generate off of it. If it's something that's adding too much. I'll tell you in a second, like, Here you go, boom. And, you know, so when people find people who are actually real and authentic, they gravitate to respect.

Heather Hale 35:42
Absolutely. I'll tell you something beyond the social media is also your assets, your marketing assets. So I help people create pitch packages, sizzle reels, practice their pitch and all that. And I've been a judge at you know, nappies player, TV player contest bondage for a bunch of things. Yeah, forever. So one of them at one market. And again, I don't want to, you know, hurt anyone's reputation. I just share the spirit of the story. This gal came in and she was competing. And she, the first round ever, there were three rounds. And the first round was to pitch verbally. And so this girl came in and pitched her heart out on I think it was a mafia comedy, like a sitcom. She was so hysterical. We were like wiping tears, though. I think there were eight or 12. I don't know, several judges, I don't remember how many judges about eight, let's say. But we were laughing, literally slapping our needs wiping away tears cracking up, she had us eating out of her hand and we loved her. We loved her project. We loved everything about her. So then she made it to the second round. And in the second round, she brought in her sizzle reel. And in her sizzle, she had spent $250,000. No. And she had I don't know if it was friends or I don't know who these actors were. But in this sizzle. The production value was awful. The timing was awful. The acting was awful. The costumes were awful. And 250 100%. And that is not the only time I've seen that I've seen people do better with zero budget than 250. I've seen lots of bad how

Alex Ferrari 37:28
I'm just figuring out how do you spend a quarter of a million dollars on a sizzle reel? Like how do you do it happens all Oh my god.

Heather Hale 37:37
So because companies want to get paid. And they I think prey on delusions. So. So what happened was and I'm proud of myself, I'm not bragging but just it's hard to find people who will tell the truth in Hollywood and I do always get in trouble all the time. So I will say I'm here at it when it helps. So she was gonna get knocked out. And I spoke up in the, in the voting round with her in the room and said, I got to tell you, I said I'm going to point out the elephant in the room because everybody was giving her feedback on the sizzle reel. Yeah. And I said to her to enter the fellow judges, I said, Look, that sizzle reel, unfortunately, you have wasted $250,000, you know, on her face had she's almost in tears. You shouldn't be she was almost in tears because everybody was ripping the sizzle reel to shreds, and she was going to get knocked out of the contest. And she had spent all this money. And I said Look, I said I'm gonna vote to put you through on the caveat that you pitch verbally, again, because you had us, you had us imagining your vision, and this sizzle reel is going to kill you. So you need to never show it. Anyone again ever. I don't care how much it cost. I don't care how much lead tears went into it. It's going to shoot you in the foot. It's an albatross to your project. Let it go consider it a mistake. And and and she everybody changed their votes. And we put her through and she pitched verbally. And she did that she didn't win. But she was like number two or number three. And she was really grateful. And I mean, it's heartbreaking to tell someone that but it's true.

Alex Ferrari 39:19
You got to you've got to tell the truth. And it's not even up for debate. It was just like, Look, this was horrendous. Yeah, you're hurting yourself by

Heather Hale 39:28
To acknowledge how fantastic she did without even a piece of paper. That that shows the integrity of the idea, her passion, her personality, her ownership and authenticity with that material. As the writer she had earned the right to stand up and bolus over and it was so well executed on the page. It is not her fault that the collaborators didn't rise to the occasion and she can find other collaborators because she owns the intellectual property. It's her baby.

Alex Ferrari 39:58
Absolutely, absolutely. So How How should someone with a digital series approach to television market in today's world? Because now, as you said, everything's going towards television? What How should someone should they do a pilot? Should they just come in with the idea? Should they do have a full series produced? What do you What's your suggestion?

Heather Hale 40:19
Well, I think all of those you know, it's like Hollywood How do you break into Hollywood? Well, let's give you the 2000 ways we all know friends who've done it, you know it there's no right or wrong. I will say there probably some quicker avenues than others and then the minute you say this is the way you do it, then there's some breakout Blair Witch success that you know, it's this stuff that happens the angry orange, I don't know if you're familiar with that. I mean, I, there's a ton of examples of stuff. But one way they do watch just as we were talking about earlier, within social engagement, there are people who put up Twitter accounts that are in the voice or the point of view of one of their characters and then voice and that's, I think, how eight things about my daughter eight roles about my daughter got done was started off a Twitter feed, you know, it was that such a unique, authentic voice. So coming up with ways to select I think was angry orange was a little two minute thing that was an orange, literally an orange. marquee face drawn on it. Yes.

Alex Ferrari 41:18
He's. He's done very well.

Heather Hale 41:21
Yeah. So they were like 32nd two minute things, but they were so freakin funny. They went viral. And you know, I forget who it was. pretty famous gal. I should remember her name. But she said viral is not a business plan.

Alex Ferrari 41:35
Like Sundance is not a distribution plan. Sundance is not a distribution.

Heather Hale 41:39
That's like saying, I'm going to buy a lottery ticket. Yes. Somebody, somebody who buys a ticket will win. But your odds, like that's not the business plan. Go ahead, throw the penny in the crib.

Alex Ferrari 41:52
I'm quitting my job today. Because my next year, I'm covered because I'm going to do the scratch off.

Heather Hale 41:57
Exactly. Yeah. So I mean, I pro pennies and fountains and I'm all about superstitious little rituals. Cool. Do it by your lottery tickets. I all the more power to you. But Call me if you went please sleep call that

Alex Ferrari 42:10
Five projects. Yeah.

Heather Hale 42:11
Yeah. So but some of the things they can do one, of course, if you're like, I judged the Marcee web Fest, several years back, and that was fascinating, because you know, Josh Gad, yeah, of course. Okay, Josh, Gad one. Oh, lover. Yeah, yeah, he's all off and Buting the beast, but he also had 1600 pen, if you remember that as a short lived series. So right before with Dharma, the girl who played Dharma and Dharma and Greg, right before that. He was submitted into the Marseille web fest. And it was me and I think the Warner Brothers digital VP, bunch of really cool people. So we were, you know, sequestered in a room for 12 hours watching nothing but websites went to a web series, one after another. And there were people who had fantastic business plans, and ancillary marketing and Merchandising, and it was so well like sales and marketing 101, like, or not even that PhDs and sales and marketing. But we weren't engaged by their content. So what difference did it make, right? And then you had people who had years of seasons and seasons, like hundreds of episodes. And then you had Josh Gad with like two little three minute sketches that were practically SNL. And again, we're in hysterics. So I think it comes down to the quality. So if you have, let's say you have a web series that's won some awards, don't expect someone to watch eight episodes of it, grab the, you know, 30 seconds or two minutes of the very, very, very best footage. And don't feel like it needs to be five minutes or seven minutes or any of that. If it's if you have a really good two minutes, that's the beginning, middle and end. And there's a little bit of weak stuff, when in doubt, cut it out, cut it out, cut it out, if it is not very, very, very best cream of the crop. You know, they say Shakespeare threw away 95% of his stuff. I don't know how anyone knows that. But you know, I believe it as a writer,

Alex Ferrari 44:07
I'm sure and I would love to be in that trashcan.

Heather Hale 44:10
Exactly. But that's what I'm saying. You got to throw away kill your babies, kill your darlings, and then only take the cream of the crop and then that tease, you know, you sell the sizzle, not the steak, you want to elicit their interest and intrigue them to want more. And you may not show them more. You may get into a room. They're really engaged. They have their different ideas and you go in their direction because he who has the gold wins. Don't feel like you owe it to the material to bring in your old crap that they might not what find what tickled them because it might be different, like what Spike TV is interested in is going to be quite different than what the sci fi channel is interested in.

Alex Ferrari 44:50
Sure. Exactly. And that's a problem for a lot of creators is that they spend so much time so much money creating something they want to show it all exactly. It's and you just like maybe pictures, right? It's your baby, you want to show baby pictures to everybody. I try not to do that. But But every once in a while, just for, you know, exactly. We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. But at the end of the day, you've got to take off your Creator hat and put on your business hat, put on your marketing hat and go, Okay, what I got to look at this with clean eyes, and you can't have someone who can do it for you

Heather Hale 45:36
And ditto your YouTube channel, maybe you have a YouTube channel that's got all of that on there. But you have a branded YouTube channel that only has the best of the best that represents the show, which is, you know, you think of what you put on social media, especially what you're putting on that is projecting to the industry is your 24 seven shingle. Don't put crap out there. And if you do, like, hide it in a way that only friends and family can see it, but if you're gonna put it out there on your website, anywhere, you know, it's way better to have three great two minute clips, then something that's, you know, really, two hours of bad. No, that's what they say the greatest sin in Hollywood is to be boring.

Alex Ferrari 46:21
Yes. And there has been plenty of that going on at the movie theaters lately.

Heather Hale 46:25
Yeah. And on the market floors and at the festivals and co production markets. You know, I used to joke that, you know, the perfume of Hollywood is desperation.

Alex Ferrari 46:35
Oh, God, that's a great line. And it's so true. Yeah. And you and and because I used to wear that, that Oh, we've all worn it. We've all to desperation.

Heather Hale 46:45
Yeah. And the purse and the deodorant. Like it comes out. It's the Bo of Hollywood. It's desperation also.

Alex Ferrari 46:51
I mean, it is something that you can smell on someone. Yeah. So fast into the room into a ballroom you can smell and and I used to, I used to just just it would it would rain around me. I should spring out of me like, what's his name from Charlie Brown? The guy who's always dirty? Up rock? Yeah, he would just always walk. Yeah, it was around me all the time. Yeah, I would meet someone when I first got here, I would meet someone, you know, at another level, higher level or just a place that I could? And I'd be like, I hate doing it at the end, you would just go after them. Yeah. And they could just be like, Okay, he's that and that would be the end of it. No. And I happened to me a bunch of times till I finally, I don't know how I did it. But naturally, I just stopped it and became more giving and more of service to people I meet trying to be.

Heather Hale 47:42
And that I think is the is the to me, networking is the highest form of service. It's what do they need? How can I help them and you hope that by the time it pays forward 10 times somewhere it comes around back to you. Right? But you know, when you're trying to intentionally network, you know, one of the most prudent things is to ask them about them in their projects, because and that's the thing you have to be careful of with you is because when someone asks a writer about their project, oh, no. Right? We love our babies, we want to talk about them. That's all we want to talk about. So you really are it's kind of like being on a first blind date after a divorce. You don't really want to talk about your ex, right? So you want to listen and ask questions. And if the conversation comes back around to you be locked and loaded with a silver bullet. That's really quick and easy than kills.

Alex Ferrari 48:30
Right! But don't don't but don't walk up with that bullet in hand just yet. Don't shut it off.

Heather Hale 48:35
Z or the machine gun. Yeah, God on silver bullet.

Alex Ferrari 48:40
I it's, it's it's just so funny. And I meet and I was my next question was gonna be about networking. And I think we're on that topic now. But like, sometimes I'll be speaking and, you know, people will come up and they'll just, they're just kind of like, you can tell that they're they're just wanting to their I call them energy suckers, even successful people. Right? Yeah, just energy suckers. They just want to obsess Empire, vampires, they just want to start from you. And, you know, you as you get older and you've been in the business long enough, you'd become attuned to that. That frequency very quickly, or your hair goes on and as they come up as they approach you, yeah. Oh, desperation. There's the odor desperation. There's the O of BS. You know, I'm not trying to do anything, but I'm just trying to impress you because I've done this, this and this. I know this. I could definitely get your project that this person because I cut their hair.

Heather Hale 49:37
I'll tell you two quick little stories about that. I was I you know, I'm not a vain person. You know, we all get beat up so much. I guess you just don't have time or energy to be vain. You just working hard

Alex Ferrari 49:51
Not on this side of the camera, at least.

Heather Hale 49:53
Yeah, yeah. So I was at an event. It was a women's event and I was talking to a group of women and you know, I'm a I'm a first I'm a, I was a first time director, I think I've done two things now. But you know, I'm really still a rookie, I really am trying to break in as a director. So I was at this event and I have done I had directed a million dollar feature, which on the one hand, anyone in the business knows like soup to nuts. That is, that's like an ultra marathon series like that. It's a huge accomplishment, whether it made any money or not, it got in the can. And it got picked up by two distributors. It was at the AFM and right, huge, it was at Walmart Best Buy. Okay, so who cares if it's any good or made any money like that, just the fact that we got from point A to point z, and I did not die or kill anybody, right? So and it had meatloaf and Ed Asner and Eddie Furlong, so I'm at this event. And I'm feeling like simultaneously proud and scared, shitless and insecure and blah, blah, blah. And these girls are talking about all the stuff they've directed, and they're posing and dropping names and being all the all this. So I'm just sitting listening because I really need to network and I really need to learn a lot more. And I need to expand my horizons, blah, blah, blah, blah. Well, I can our listening to them give all sorts of advice and tell me what I should do. It comes around that one of them his entire directing oeuvre was a PSA. And he had done a short film. So I sat there and not that I'm all bad. But I sat there respectfully listening to all and and then when they asked me what I had done, which like the event was almost over, and I was like, Oh, you know, just a million dollar feature with meatloaf. And yeah, and then I walked away because they like seriously put their lap late. Like I said to her, they they had done a free public service announcement for 30 seconds. And that was what they directed. Sure. The flipside of that I was going to say is when people are posing, you know, the, if you have to get a catcher's mitt out to catch the names that they drop, no, odds are, they're full of it. And if you call them out on it, well to have two stories. I had a guy who told me and I won't say who he is, because he's kind of a power player. But he told me he Ma, it'll be too obvious. He had directed a little movie called and then I won't put the movie in, but it was a huge movie. Sure. He had no he had he had line produced a little movie called insert huge movie here. Sure. And I was like, Oh my god, I better check my ego. And so I sucked it up and let him treat me like shit because he was a misogynist. He was awful. And then I optioned my material to him, which was a huge mistake. And then I googled because nowadays you can I am in the bathroom like now I've learned like, excuse me go to the bathroom, IMDb the shit out of their lies, right. But it turned out he had second unit line. Oh, no, he had told me he had produced it. But he had second unit line produced it. Which is he's basically Yeah, producers like finding the money soup to knotting it. And second unit line producing is someone who was hired to cut checks for a couple of days.

Alex Ferrari 52:58
Second, not even the main line producer the second

Heather Hale 53:00
Second unit line producer when he told me he produced it. But then the third I was gonna say because it goes the other way, too, is people who drive the flashy cars and have the gorgeous, can sometimes be so so encumbered and sold, leased and so fake about what they're projecting is their image, that they don't have the money to scrape together, change out of their depth for iced tea at a McDonald's, right? Yep. And sometimes you'll be with someone who's driving a beat up car, and they're not inexpensive shoes. And they do not offer to pick up the tab that's on somebody else's expense account. And they are the person who owns 21 homes free and clear and could actually find your film, but they're not trying to impress you, and they are cheap. And the reason they're rich is because they're cheap. And that doesn't mean they won't invest in your film. So I mean, it goes both ways.

Alex Ferrari 53:55
I do find and this is against only from years of experience, that the people who are the big loud mouth, the people who are the boasters Yes, there are those guys, you know, that are the Brett Ratner's of the world that are those kind of people, you know, and do actually know these people and actually have the money and stuff. And I threw bread out there because he deserves to be thrown out there. And I have no problem with that. But there but most of the times you're going to you know if you see the guy quiet in the room, and he's in the room, first of all, she's in the room. That means that they've done something to be in that room. Yeah. And generally speaking, they're not going to be the boasting guys and not going to be the ones dropping names. If you see Steven Soderbergh's car. He drives like a 2005 2008. Pre Buffett does too, by the way, right? Exactly. Because they're not trying to impress anyone. They're damaged. Yeah, they're very, they're rare in LA. They're in the business in general, you don't meet those people very often. They're rare on wall street there were Nashville's, ya know, they're everywhere, and they're very vague in every industry, but in our business, you know, you don't meet those people. So what I do actually meet people like our be Suzanne Lyons who's, you know, like you as well, people, you know, people who are actually doing what they're saying they're doing and are not boasting about, hey, I've got you know, 300,000 followers and you know I have this or I have that the proofs in the pudding. Yeah, like, Look, you just, you know, go and look, you know, look me up, I don't care, you know, look, or they'll say, look, you know, I want to talk about it.

Heather Hale 55:38
And that, quite frankly, is the value to your website and social media, you know, the more I feel like it, my website's not perfect, but I try really hard to have it projected good image. But I think that's good, because you can have a conversation, give them a business card, and then they can do their due diligence on you. And they can check you out after the fact they can check your bio, they can check your credits on IMDB. And so you can just be a human being involved and engaged in the conversation and not be trying to spit out your resume. So, you know, that is that's how I think you can be using your marketing and social media and those things to, to back you up with this 24 shingle that's out there all the time, but just be a human being when and be present in those conversations.

Alex Ferrari 56:24
Now, we've gone off off the rails a little bit in this interview, because we were talking more about markets. But this all works into the network. It all works out. But can you add, can you throw a few insider nuggets of things that we should look for at film markets, things that you like, I wish I would have known this doing a market before?

Heather Hale 56:44
Well, there's so much that I wrote a book on it. So like, that's before, that's actually the whole reason for the book was because you said you had gone to one of your first markets recently. Really kind of like blown away and overwhelmed. I think anyone in this business should just get on a market floor as fast as possible. Because you what you learn and how humbling it is, will really put things in perspective for the rest of your career. So whether you sell anything, Oh, go ahead,

Alex Ferrari 57:12
No, it's a product. That was the thing I said in my review of AFM like, it's so humbling, because they don't care about the craft. They don't care about the artistry they don't care about. It's a product. And yeah, and as soon as you understand that changes your perspective, a whole I don't care what your personal project, they don't care about it.

Heather Hale 57:30
Yeah. And they're not being mean either. They're just, it's not even callous. They're just so Matter of fact, and they can smile while they're just eviscerating you. painful. Leave a case you know, it's art to us but they don't care. They don't care.

Alex Ferrari 57:49
Obviously Steven Seagal and Mike Tyson not a lot of art in that movie.

Heather Hale 57:52
So So I will say that honestly, like I I'll tell you like how the book started. And then I'll tell you a couple secrets. I was at the American Film market in 2013. I booked all the speakers and I was helping focal press come up with their line, their franchise line, the AFM present. Sure. And so they had a focal press it said, you know, who do you think would make a good author for one of our books or in our series and who would be a good subject matter expert and is like, you know, you need to get RB to do something on crowdsourcing ad got him on a panel is like you've got to get no but nobody's talking about that. And I gave him all these names of people and I'd gotten another friend Anne Marie Guillen on the finance panel. I just really tried hard to get, you know, some new fresh voices that we needed to be hearing at the AFM. I was actually really proud because people told me later they opened up the full page spread, and I was Hollywood Reporter daily variety. And I had all the pictures for the all panelists. And people, at least a dozen people wrote me privately and said, I don't know how you did it. But it was 5050 female male, and it was every color of skin under the sun. That's because normally we don't see that. So I was really had like my own private agenda to try to really diversify what we saw, so that you weren't ghettoizing like putting all the women on one panel, because we don't know when you can avoid that panel, or all the people of color on one panel, and that's our diversity panel, but get one on every panel. That was my golf. Good. Anyway, um, so. So when I was helping her, I was giving her all these people that I think I got eight or a dozen friends book deals that year. She said, Well, if you come up with anything else, let us know. And I said, I can tell you right now what you're missing. And she said what? I go, you've got the American Film market presents and no one's ever written a book on how to work the markets. And her face just dropped like yeah, da it's like always the obvious that we miss. And so I said, I'll, I'll write it, you know, and I, of course, didn't feel like I was a guru. I just knew I could research and I reached out to at least 200 People I did interviews for a couple years for that book. So some of the things I learned at one at one AFM I was sitting there and I won't mention names of companies, I will tell you privately.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:11
Sure, no problem. I appreciate it.

Heather Hale 1:00:13
Anyway, I was sitting there with a girlfriend and we were going into meet someone I had interviewed, because that was another thing I did. I used it to network like crazy so that I could meet 200 people that were, you know, international sales agents and distributors and all that a financier, as an investor. So are sitting there to meet one of the people who I'd interviewed with. And we were on the other side of this cubby wall, because, you know, they sometimes have these temporary cubby walls and like there's four feet of empty room, you know, that it's the wall is not there. So on the other side was somebody pitching. And on the other side of another wall, were a couple people. So there was an established distributor, who was teaching a wet behind the ears, rookie distributor who was new to their company, of how to do what they needed to do. And I don't know how much you know about, like, I do my own budgets and schedules, and I can my views and stuff. So I don't know how much you know about this, but it hit us. But basically, when you do an independent film, you have to often do a SAG bond, right? Okay, so let's say you have a million dollar film and your budget for your actors is, let's say 200,000. So sag might make you put up 200,000, or 50,000. But you have to put up a bond, so that if for any reason you flake out and don't pay the payroll for that week, sag can dip into this bond, that it's a formula that they make you that they hold the whole time. So if you need a million dollars, you actually need 1.2 million, because you got to put this money up that sits there that you can't touch until you get it back. And so this distributor was explaining to the other distributor, the new distributor, how they could basically make a commission off you getting your sag bond refunded to you, if they use the wording for gross receipts into the account they were managing, okay. So in other words, they're supposed to be selling your film, and getting a commission from Turkey or China or you know, wherever they're selling it. And as those monies come in, they take 10% 20%, whatever their commission is off the Pasha. She was teaching him how to get the bond, the savings account, you raised blood, sweat and tears that you had sitting there to pay your actors, that when you got it back from sag, they could take 10 to 20% of it because it passed through their account.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:35
So let me let me clarify something you're telling me that there are unscrupulous distributors in the marketplace? Can you imagine this? Is this an exclusive?

Heather Hale 1:02:45
And they were training one another down the daisy chain? How to screw independent producers? So I know, shocking, absolutely.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:53
I've never heard anything like that.

Heather Hale 1:02:56
Like you're gonna take a commission off my savings account that I barely scraped together to make this Phil Street. What is this? Oh, my God, and then they want us to sign a contract that says, Oh, yeah, yeah, you can handle my money. I trust you. Yes. Yeah. So those are the kinds of things So literally, during the course of writing this book, I will say, I am this probably not politically correct. But we've established I'm an idiot, yes. I probably will make very little money off this, you know, because the publisher makes 80%. You know, funders are bad. Okay, so I don't, people are like, oh, I'll buy your book. I'm like, thanks. Like, what am I like? Maybe I'll see two cents. 10 years from now? I don't know. So I was so frustrated writing this book, because all that I was learning and all of that. And then I didn't even want to do as two years of work for free. For what, right? But what kept me going was storytellers around the world, content creators, people who have a dream, people have a passion, people have a story that is so under their skin, that they're working for two or five or 10 years for free speculatively. And I thought I got to help them. I got to help them navigate these markets. I got to help them stop being screwed. I got to help them save money. And I will tell you, this is really inappropriate. And I love it. I really need to edit it. No, we won't. I was in the AFM series originally in the franchise. Sure. And I was part of that. And it was always going to be that and it was kicked out. Because of many of the things I said of how to save money and how to you know, okay, if you can't afford a badge, here's what you do.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:37
Well, Heather, Heather to A to A to A FM's Kravitz defense here. I'm sorry, but I get that.

Heather Hale 1:04:46
And I edited it all out. You know what I mean? just done, the damage was done. And so the truth is, you know, there's a lot in this book that the markets don't want you to know. And the other thing was by the end of it, I was like, okay, you Here's how you work around the markets. Here's how you take everything you've learned. Yeah, that work on a market floor. And here's how you DIY it. Here's how you do YouTube. Here's how you use social media. Here's how you sell not business to business, but business to consumer, because that is revolution that Amazon and who else there still in the middle, you literally could have your own website and sell your books and your movies and your TV if they're good enough directly to the crowd that you're creating. So I think it was too independent and too irreverent, too real. And I have a problem with that.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:34
No, look, I I gave away. I give away a lead generator for if you sign up to my email list, six, six tips to get into film festivals for free or cheap. Yeah, exactly. And I think I got into over 600 film festivals in the course of my career, and I paid for probably less than 5% or 10% of Yeah, yeah. But you know, sometimes I wrote the film film festivals the wrong way. I'm like, but guys, look, you know, it's awesome.

Heather Hale 1:06:03
It is. It's such a hard business. You know, people are like I would volunteer for variety. sommets I bought I volunteered for everything I couldn't afford to go to. You know, so I'm a little pee on peasant with a name badge, but I get to hear the studio execs telling it like it is to, you know, be a fly on the wall to the $5,000 a seat thing I can't get into. So you just we one thing about independent filmmakers is we are scrappy. We are resilient. And we are pitfalls and we need to learn to be unflappable badasses.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:35
No. Can you say that? Can you talk? We spoke about the book a bit, but what's the name of the book? Where can they get it?

Heather Hale 1:06:42
It's called how to work the film and TV markets. And it's available on Amazon. It's available. You know, it's actually add a lot of the markets the the publisher took it to the AFM and it sold out in the first day. I'm sure so yeah. So my website is HeatherHale.com and I will put a plug because it's not even cost them any money. But on HeatherHale.com, I'm pretty sure it's /howtoworkthefilmandTVmarkets is all sorts of giveaway stuff. Like it has a calendar of the map of the markets all around the world, co production markets festivals. And I'll tell you that that calendar, that matrix took me forever, because I had to line up what was going on simultaneously, what was an ad junk event? What was going on? Like if you're going to another country? What could you also hit while you're there, it's a really great calendar, I've got the facts on packs. So who's got housekeeping deals where I've got them archived, so you can look back who used to have a deal with what studio and what distributor, it's got so many different sets of information. So and that's all you know, it's got a global map, it's got all the market statistics, it's got some great full color, key art examples. It's got a Union's low budget matrix, because if you can ever make sense of that game of Sudoku, good luck, right? So it's got anyway, it's Heather hale.com, how to work the film and TV markets, and it's got tons of giveaways. And then and then also on there, there's a 21% off on Amazon and 20% off the publishers like a code. So you know, it's gonna make my two cents go to one. But you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:08:20
I love the honesty, it's awesome. And I'll put all of those links in the show notes. So I have a few questions left that asked all my guests, all my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker or screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?

Heather Hale 1:08:36
Oh, we have another hour. Now. Honestly, this is gonna sound really cliche and soapy. And but it's so true. It's just so frickin true. And you remember, you get reminded of it every year and every decade. And that's just be true to yourself. Be true to yourself, be authentic, and know who your friends are, because you will learn over and over and over again, who they are and who they aren't. And, you know, if you're going to be miserable, working around the clock at two in the morning, you damn well better make sure it's something worth working on. And I would say also, you know, when we create film and television products or content, I mean a lot of people artists hate to hear it referred to as product and content, but at the marketplace, that is what it is. It's a art over at the festivals. But whatever it is that you're creating, that you're generating, you are essentially exporting our culture. So I would beseech you to please be careful that you're really espousing values you actually hold not lowering to pander to the lowest common denominator of what you think you can sell. Because you could have a breakout hit with something that's actually meaningful. You know, you look at Shawshank Redemption and Groundhog Day and you know, there are films out They're and there's nothing wrong with entertainment, like cult hits, like there's so much good stuff out there. But, you know, do stuff you're really proud of. And that really means something to you. And it's cool if it's comedy, Thriller, Horror, whatever it is, but I mean, even look at alien aliens. Those are real horror, like in silence of the lamb and the believers, like there's some scary shit out there. And it's still entertaining. So I'm not saying it has to be g rated Disney answers for sure. I'm just saying, make sure that what you're saying with your art is really what you mean, because it's easy for it to get, you know, going through that gauntlet to get like GMO two headed shaped weird. That's not what you meant at all right? You know, stay true to yourself, stay true to your voice. And, and one thing that is good about Hollywood, there are many, many, many, many, many good things about Hollywood. But one of the things I love most about it is it is a society and a culture, where Everywhere you look, people are following their dreams everywhere. And it is exciting. It's entrepreneurs, I call them everywhere you look as people who passionately believe. Usually they're scams and posers and flakes, and felonies and all that. But most of the heart that beats in Hollywood, is people who have a mission for something they want to say that so under their skin, that they're trying to figure out a way to say it and hold true to that. And, you know, it's like I always say, you know, I'm a I'm a voluptuous girl. So I'm lucky because I'm very thick skinned, because you need a rhinoceros skin to survive in Hollywood. But one of the hardest things is to keep your heart open, and to stay responsive to the communal consciousness and to have empathy for other people's worldviews and points of views. So if you can, don't be a dick,

Alex Ferrari 1:11:55
That's, that should be on a T shirt. If that's not it, don't be there. That's like the best advice you could have in Hollywood. Don't be just don't be a dick.

Heather Hale 1:12:02
Yeah, be a nice person. And that doesn't mean be a doormat. It means be an unflappable badass who can cheerfully tell the truth and be honest and be you know, have good intentions and, and, and write great stories because the world needs them.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:20
Amen more now than ever. Can you tell me what book had the biggest impact on your life or career?

Heather Hale 1:12:29
Oh, boy, this is gonna reveal my libertarian roots. And probably Atlas Shrugged or the fountainhead. Okay, really? I know that's not an industry book. But sure. Oh, it's all about golf coach.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:46
I gotcha. I gotcha. I gotcha. No problem, no problem. Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Heather Hale 1:12:56
Oh, my goodness, there's so many out. I'm not sure I've learned them all. Um, okay, well, I'm stealing this from my dad, but I think he would allow me to, and I'll probably cry because he recently passed. But um, you don't have to make every mistake personally. Interesting. And that you can surround yourself with mentors, and mastermind groups and friends. And you can learn from other people's mistakes and advice. And that doesn't mean, you know, don't have to make every mistake yourself.

Alex Ferrari 1:13:32
If you're smart, you can learn from others mistakes. And yeah, because I mean, why wouldn't you? Sometimes Sometimes you have to learn it by sticking your hand in the fire. But if people tell you, hey, I've been burned there, don't put your hand there.

Heather Hale 1:13:45
And that's why you have to know who your friends are. Because there are a lot of people who are going to tell you, Oh, don't put your hand in my cookie jar, when really you can build your own cookie jar, and they shouldn't be in your kitchen. To know who your friends are. Because your friends. And I'm very blessed to have a few who will tell you when you're being a shit. Who will tell you when you're being myopic, who will tell you when you're not seeing the forest for the trees. And and then there's times where and I've had this happen many, many, many times, where you know, you have an email and you send it to a few friends to make sure that they vet it to make sure it's not too emotional or you're not saying anything that could be slanderous, or whatever. It sometimes you can have. And I had this happen to my fact that it's an old story I've told many times, but I wrote to Sherry Lansing once, and everybody in my circle said no, don't send it. Don't send it. Don't send it. No, you'll embarrass yourself. No, you're reaching too far. No, no, no. And guess who called me Sherry Lansing,

Alex Ferrari 1:14:47
Really? Now by the way, can you tell everybody who doesn't who Cherie,

Heather Hale 1:14:51
She was the first woman to run a studio and she repairment like Titanic and you name Yeah, she was behind.

Alex Ferrari 1:14:58
She was a beast.

Heather Hale 1:14:59
Yeah. Like Behind every successful film for like a decade and a half? Yes. So all I'm saying is that there are times when all your friends and fans and champions who have your best interests at heart, I'm not saying they're wrong, but they are not seeing either how big you could be no, or the path that you're seeing through the trees. Or sometimes you know, it's not a lottery ticket, sometimes it's just luck and you reach out and with this sharing Lansing example, I'm I can give a million others. It was some connection I had, that I knew she would respond to, you know, you can see someone's Achilles heel, you have a tender spot in your heart that you know that that thread will connect you to them. And if you authentically speak to that, and sometimes your rage, I mean, I've had, you know, knock down fights, not fights, but verbal, with people who I loved and adored, who were eight, we were able to come back around, because we spoke our truth. And we realized we were like, kind of out of sync. When we both heard the other person's point of view. We understood it and got it and we got our friendship back on track and, you know, that could have been derailed, and it's the stronger friendship for it.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:16
And what are three of your favorite films of all time?

Unknown Speaker 1:16:19
Oh, for sure. I have to say my Groundhog Day and Shawshank Redemption.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:24
I was gonna say those two for sure.

Heather Hale 1:16:25
For sure, for sure. But I'll say a couple others. One of my favorites, a little teeny, teeny film, waking that divine love waking that I'm in love with. That is one of my all time favorites. And I have to say this won't be those would be my top three. I'll leave it at that. Those are my top three.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:45
Yeah. Heather, thank you so much for for sharing with the tribe and dropping some very big knowledge bombs on us. It's been an absolute pleasure having you on the show.

Heather Hale 1:16:57
Thank you. It's my honor. And my pleasure. And I hope that everyone learned something, or at least had a good laugh.

Alex Ferrari 1:17:03
Thanks. I really want to thank Heather for dropping some major knowledge bombs about film and television markets on the tribe today. And if you guys have not had the opportunity to go to a market like AFM or Cannes, or MIP, D or MIPCOM, definitely, if you have an opportunity go and do it, even if you have nothing to sell. Just go and understand talk to people understand the process of how independent film and Independent Television series are sold. And the more you understand about that process, and about the business of selling your product, you will be so much more successful and get to your goals faster and faster. Trust me, I learned not only a ton with this as Meg but I had already learned a lot about selling movies and going through that process throughout my career. But I learned so much more just doing with this as Meg as well. And now in the new film on the corner of ego and desire. I'm taking all that knowledge and bringing it to that project. So the more you do, the more you learn, the better it is, I tell you when I went to AFM when I've gone to Toronto, at their mini market, there's so many amazing nuggets of information you can get. So please, if you have an opportunity, do it cuz you will not be disappointed. If you want links to anything we spoke about in this episode including links to Heather's book, head over to indiefilmhustle.com/240. And if you haven't already guys, if you love the show, please head over to filmmakingpodcast.com and leave us a five star review. It really really helps me out a lot helps out the podcast a lot to get it ranked higher, to get more people to see it and listen to this information. So please just head over to filmmaking podcast.com and leave us that five star review. Thank you so much. And as always keep that also going. Keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you soon.

YOUTUBE VIDEO

LINKS

  • Heather Hale – Official Site
  • [easyazon_link identifier=”1138800651″ locale=”US” tag=”whatisbroke-20″]How to Work the Film and TV Markets: A Guide for Content Creators[/easyazon_link]
  • StoryTellers on WalkAbout

SPONSORS

  1. Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  2. AudibleGet a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook
  3. Rev.com – $1.25 Closed Captions for Indie Filmmakers – Rev ($10 Off Your First Order)

David Fincher: The Ultimate Guide to His Films & Directing Style

1999 was a watershed year for people in my generation, as it no doubt was for other generations as well. On the eve of the new millennium, we were caught in a place between excitement and apprehension.

The 21st century loomed large with promises of technological and sociological innovations, yet we were beset by decidedly 20th century baggage, like an adultery scandal in the White House or the nebulous threat of Y2K.

This potent atmosphere naturally created its fair share of zeitgeist pop culture work, but no works had more of an impact on the public that year than The Wachowski Brothers’ THE MATRIX and David Fincher’s FIGHT CLUB. I was only in middle school at the time, but FIGHT CLUB in particular captivated my friends and I with the palpable substance behind its visceral style.

As a kid already consumed by a runaway love for movies, FIGHT CLUB was one of the earliest instances in which I was acutely aware of a director’s distinct voice. As such, the films of director David Fincher were among the first that I sought out as a means to study film as an art form and a product of a singular creative entity.

His easily identifiable aesthetic influenced me heavily during those early days, and despite having taken cues from a much larger world of film artists as I’ve grown, Fincher’s unique worldview still shapes my own in a fundamental way.

David Fincher was essentially the first mainstream feature director to emerge from the world of music videos. Ever the technological pioneer, David Fincher innovated several ideas about the nascent music video format that are still in use today. This spirit of innovation and a positive shooting experience on the set of 2007’s ZODIAC eventually led to him becoming a key proponent of digital filmmaking before its widespread adoption.

A student of Stanley Kubrick’s disciplined perfectionism and Ridley Scott’s imaginative world-building, David Fincher established his own voice with a cold, clinical aesthetic that finds relevancy in our increasing dependency and complicated relationship with technology.

David Fincher was born in 1962, in Denver, Colorado. His father, Howard, worked as the bureau chief for LIFE Magazine and his mother, Claire Mae, worked in drug addition facilities as a mental health nurse.

David Fincher spent most of his formative years in northern California’s Marin County (a setting he’d explore in his features THE GAME (1997) and ZODIAC), as well as the small town of Ashland, Oregon. Inspired by George Ray Hill’s BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969), an 8 year-old David Fincher started to make little movies of his own using his family’s 8mm film camera.

Having grown up in a time when film schools were well established, David Fincher—rather interestingly—opted against them in favor of going directly into the workforce under Korty Films and Industrial Light and Magic (where we would work on 1983’s RETURN OF THE JEDI).

It was David Fincher’s time at ILM specifically that would shape his fundamental understanding of and appreciation for visual effects, and his incorporation of ILM’s techniques into his music videos no doubt led to his breakout as a director.

AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY: “SMOKING FETUS” (1984)

At the age of 22, David Fincher directed his very first professional work, an anti-smoking ad for the American Cancer Society called“SMOKING FETUS”. Anti-smoking ads are infamous for being shocking and transgressive as a means to literally scare people out of lighting up.

“SMOKING FETUS” was the spot that undoubtedly started it all by featuring a fetus in utero, taking a long drag from a cigarette. The crude puppetry of the fetus is horrifying and nightmarish—an unholy image that delivers a brilliant whallop.

David Fincher has often been called a modern-day Kubrick because of his visual precision and notoriety for demanding obscene numbers of takes—a comparison made all the more salient when given that both men shared a thematic fascination with man’s relationship (and conflict with) technology.

David Fincher’s modeling of his aesthetic after Kubrick’s can be seen even in his earliest of works. Shot against a black background, the fetus floating in space resembles the Star Child of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968). “SMOKING FETUS” brought David Fincher to the attention of Propoganda Films, who subsequently signed him on in earnest, effectively launching his career.


RICK SPRINGFIELD: “DANCE THIS WORLD AWAY” (1984)

Due to the strength of “SMOKING FETUS”, 80’s rock superstar Rick Springfield enlisted David Fincher to direct his 1984 concert film, THE BEAT OF THE LIVE DRUM. The responsibility also entailed the shooting of four pre-filmed music videos to incorporate into the live show.

“DANCE THIS WORLD AWAY” features three vignettes: a man dancing amongst the ruins of a post-apocalyptic wasteland, a happy-go-lucky TV show for kids, and a ballroom filled with socialites oblivious to the nuclear missile launching from underneath the dance floor. The piece establishes several traits that David Fincher would incorporate into his mature aesthetic like stylized, theatrical lighting, an inspired use of visual effects and elaborate production design.


RICK SPRINGFIELD: “CELEBRATE YOUTH” (1984)

“CELEBRATE YOUTH” is presented in stark black and white, punctuated by bright pops of color like the red of Springfield’s bandana or the indigo of a child’s sneakers. This conceit further points to David Fincher’s familiarity with special effects, as such a look requires the shooting of the original footage in color and isolating specific elements in post production.

The look predates a similar conceit used by Frank Miller’s SIN CITY (both the 2005 film and the comic it was based upon), so it’s reasonable to assume that David Fincher’s video very well could have served as an influence for Miller. “CELEBRATE YOUTH” also highlights David Fincher’s inspired sense of camera movement, utilizing cranes and dollies to add energy and flair to the proceeds.


RICK SPRINGFIELD: “BOP TIL YOU DROP” (1984)

“BOP TIL YOU DROP” tells David Fincher’s first narrative story in the form of a slave revolt inside of a futuristic METROPOLIS-style dystopia. This is Fincher’s earliest instance of world-building, using elaborate creature and set design, confident camera movements and theatrical lighting (as well as lots of special visual effects) to tell an archetypal story of revolution.


RICK SPRINGFIELD: “STATE OF THE HEART”(1984)

Rounding out David Fincher’s quartet of Rick Springfield videos is “STATE OF THE HEART”, which compared to the others, is relatively sedate and low-key in its execution. While the piece takes place inside of a single room, David Fincher still brings a sense of inspired production design in the form of a cool, metallic color palette. Indeed, “STATE OF THE HEART” is the first instance within Fincher’s filmography of the cool, steely color palette that would later become his signature.


THE BEAT OF THE LIVE DRUM (1984)

All of the aforementioned music videos, while capable of acting as standalone pieces, were produced for eventual incorporation into Rick Springfield’s larger concert film, THE BEAT OF THE LIVE DRUM.

With his first feature-length work, David Fincher more or less follows the established format of concert films—performance, audience cutaways, wide shots that give us the full scope of the theatrics, etc. He makes heavy use of a crane to achieve his shots, partly out of necessity since he can’t exactly be on-stage, yet it still shows a remarkable degree of confidence in moving the camera on David Fincher’s part.

And while it probably wasn’t Fincher’s idea or decision, THE BEAT OF THE LIVE DRUM contains a pretty blatant Kubrick nod in the form of a guitarist wearing Malcolm McDowell’s iconic outfit from A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971).

The concert film format doesn’t allow much room for David Fincher to exercise his personal artistic voice, but he does manage to add a few stylistic flourishes in the form of visual effects that were added in after the live filming.

He adds a CGI blimp hovering over the stage, as well as fireballs that erupt from various places throughout the stadium (several audience cutaways appear blatantly staged to accommodate the inclusion of these effects).

Despite being something of a time capsule for ridiculous 80’s hair rock, it’s a high quality romp through Springfield’s discography that briskly clips along its brief 70 minute running time without ever really sagging.

Fincher’s involvement with THE BEAT OF THE LIVE DRUM wasn’t going to net him any opportunities to transition into features, but it did generate a significant amount of buzz for him in the music video and commercial world, where he’d spend the better part of a decade as one of the medium’s most sought-after directors.

The success of THE BEAT OF THE LIVE DRUM (1984), director David Fincher’s feature-length concert film for Rick Springfield, led to a very prolific period of music video assignments for the burgeoning auteur. In three short years, David Fincher established himself as a top music video director, held in high regard and higher demand by the biggest pop artists of the era. It was the golden age of music videos, and Fincher was the tastemaker at the forefront developing it into a legitimate art form.


THE MOTELS: “SHAME” (1985)

In his early professional career, Fincher’s most visible influence is the work of brothers Ridley and Tony Scott, two feature directors who were quite en vogue at the time due to blockbuster, high-fashion work like BLADE RUNNER (1982) and THE HUNGER (1983). Tony in particular was a key aesthetic influence, with David Fincher borrowing the English director’s love for theatrical lighting and the noir-ish slat shadows cast by venetian blinds.
For The Motels’ “SHAME”, Fincher makes heavy use of this look in his vignette of a woman stuck in a motel room who dreams of a glamorous life outside her window. Because computer-generated imagery was still in its infancy at the time, Fincher’s penchant for using special effects in his music video work is limited mostly to compositing effects, like the motion billboard and the fake sky behind it.


THE MOTELS: “SHOCK” (1985)

David Fincher’s second video for the Motels features lead singer Martha Davis as she’s chased by an unseen presence in a dark, empty house late at night. The concept allows Fincher to create an imaginative lighting and production design scheme.“SHOCK” also makes lurid use of Fincher’s preferred cold color palette, while a Steadicam rig allows David Fincher to chase Martha around the house like a gliding, ominous force. This subjective POV conceit echoes a similar shot that David Fincher would incorporate into his first feature, 1992’s ALIEN 3, whereby we assume the point of view of a xenomorph as it chases its victims down a tunnel. The piece also feature some low-key effects via a dramatic, stormy sky.


THE OUTFIELD: “ALL THE LOVE IN THE WORLD” (1986)

By 1986, David Fincher’s music video aesthetics were pretty well-established: cold color palettes, theatrical lighting schemes commonly utilizing venetian blinds, and visual effects. While The Outfield’s “ALL THE LOVE IN THE WORLD” was shot on film, David Fincher embraces the trappings of the nascent video format by incorporating tape static and a surveillance-style van.


THE OUTFIELD: “EVERY TIME YOU CRY” (1986)

David Fincher’s second video for The Outfield in 1986, “EVERY TIME YOU CRY”, is a concert performance piece a la THE BEAT OF THE LIVE DRUM. Like the latter’s incorporation of rudimentary visual effects, here Fincher uses the technology to replace the sky with a cosmic light show and add in a dramatic moonrise.


HOWARD HEWETT: “STAY” (1986)

In “STAY”, a piece for Howard Hewett, David Fincher makes use of another of Tony Scott’s aesthetic fascinations—billowing curtains. He projects impressionistic silhouettes onto said curtains, giving his cold color palette some visual punch.


JERMAINE STEWART: “WE DON’T HAVE TO TAKE OUR CLOTHES OFF” (1986)

While Jermaine Stewart’s “WE DON’T HAVE TO TAKE OUR CLOTHES OFF” is a relatively conventional music video, David Fincher’s direction of it is anything but. The core aesthetic conceit of the piece is the playful exploration of aspect ratio boundaries. David Fincher conceives of the black bars at the top and bottom of your screen as arbitrary lines in physical space, so when the camera moves to the side, those lines skew appropriately in proportion to your perspective. He takes the idea a step further by superimposing performance elements shot in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio over the main 2.35:1 anamorphic footage, giving the effect of visuals that transcend the constraints and the edges of their frame.

You can watch the video here.


COMMERICALS & MUSIC VIDEO (1988-1990)

Throughout the 80’s, David Fincher became a director in high demand thanks to his stunning music videos. As he crossed over into the world of commercials, his imaginative style and technical mastery began to command the attention of studio executives, who desired to see his visceral aesthetic to features. During the late 80’s and early 90’s, Fincher churned out some of his most memorable music video work and worked with some of the biggest stars around.


YM MAGAZINE “HER WORLD” (1988)

While his “SMOKING FETUS” spot for the American Cancer Society in 1984 was his first commercial, Fincher’s “HER WORLD”, a spot commissioned by Young Miss Magazine, kicked off his commercial directing career in earnest. The spot stars a young, pre-fame Angelina Jolie walking towards us, clutching a copy of YM Magazine as several cars painted with the words “sex, “love”, “work”, “family”, and others zip and crash around her in a ballet of violence. Even when working in the branding-conscious world of advertising, Fincher is able to retain his trademark aesthetic (indeed, you don’t hire someone like Fincher if you want a friendly, cuddly vibe). His characteristic cold color palette is accentuated by stark lighting and slick streets. An eye for stylized violence that would give 1999’s FIGHT CLUB its power can be glimpsed here through the jarring collisions of the cars.


Alien 3 (1992)

The runaway success of director James Cameron’s ALIENS sequel in 1986 turned the property into a major franchise for Twentieth Century Fox. Executives wanted to strike with a third ALIEN film while the iron was hot, but coming up with the right story proved tricky.

Adding to the threequel’s film’s development woes, a revolving door of writers and directors experienced immense frustration with a studio that was too meddlesome with its prized jewel of a franchise.

In a long search for an inexperienced, yet talented, director that they could control and micromanage, Fox settled on David Fincher—a rising star in the commercial and music video realm with a professed love for the ALIEN franchise and its founding director, Ridley Scott.

Fincher jumped at the offer to direct his first feature film, but in retrospect it was a naïve move that almost destroyed his career before it even began. His supreme confidence and bold vision clashed with the conservative executives, causing a long, miserable experience for the young director.

He eventually disowned ALIEN 3, abandoning it to flail and die at the box office. However, as Fincher has grown to become recognized as one of America’s major contemporary auteurs, his debut has undergone something of a reappraisal in the film community, with fans choosing to see the good in it instead of the bad.

More than twenty years after its release, ALIEN 3’s legacy to the medium is that it makes a hard case against the kind of filmmaking-by-committee that meddlesome studio executives still impose on gifted visionaries to this day.

ALIEN 3 picks up where ALIENS left off, with Lt. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), Hicks (Michael Biehn), and Newt (Carrie Henn) resting in cryosleep as their ship, The Sulaco, drifts peacefully through space.

However, in their hibernating state, they are unaware of the fact that an alien facehugger has stowed away onboard their craft. Its attempts to penetrate and impregnate our heroes leads to a fire on deck and the cryosleep chambers are jettisoned away in an escape pod that crash lands on nearby on Fiorina 161, a sulfurous industrial prison planet colloquially known as Fury.

Tragically, Hicks and Newt don’t survive the crash, but Ripley does when she’s discovered by a group of inmates and nursed back to health. Once restored, Ripley finds herself thrust into an all-male, religious extremist culture that hasn’t seen a woman in decades.

Ripley quickly toughens up to counter the sexual aggression of the inmates, but her problems multiply when its discovered that one of the alien xenomorphs has followed her to Fury 161 and is picking off the inmates one by one.

A distress signal is dispatched to a rescue ship, but Ripley and the inmates still have to contend with the xenomorph before help arrives, a task made all the more difficult by the lack of conventional weapons anywhere in the prison facility, as well as the discovery that Ripley is hosting the embryo of a new egg-laying Queen alien inside of her.

In her third performance as Ripley, Weaver yet again transforms the character via a radical evolution into a tough, resilient survivor. Her arc throughout the three films is compelling, and for all the controversies over the film’s storyline, Weaver deserves a lot of credit for never phoning it in when she very easily could have.

Hers is the only familiar face in this hellish new world, save for the mutilated visage of Lance Henriksen’s android Bishop (and his flesh-and-blood counterpart that appears towards the end of the film).

Among the fresh blood, so to speak, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance and Pete Postlethwaite stand out as the most compelling inmates on Fury 161. Dutton plays Dillon, a tough, righteous voice of spiritual authority that the other inmates can rally behind.

Dance plays Clemens, the sensitive, intellectual medical officer who helps Ripley acclimate to this harsh world and harbors a dark secret of his own. The late, great character actor Postlethwaite plays David, an observant prisoner with a high degree of intelligence.

David Fincher’s collaborations with director of photography Jeff Cronenweth in the music video realm led to Fincher hiring his father, the legendary Jordan Cronenweth, as ALIEN 3’s cinematographer. Best known for his work on Ridley Scott’s seminal 1982 masterpiece, BLADE RUNNER (itself a huge influence on Fincher’s aesthetic), Cronenweth was being slowly consumed by Parkinsons Disease during filming.

The earliest of ALIEN 3’s several considerable production woes, Cronenweth’s condition deteriorated so quickly that cinematographer Alex Thomson had to step in and replace him only two weeks into the shoot. Despite this setback, ALIEN 3 is a visual stunner that firmly established David Fincher’s uncompromising style in the feature realm.

Fincher’s stark, grungy aesthetic translates well into the theatrical anamorphic aspect ratio format, with the smoky, industrial production design by Norman Reynolds giving Fincher plentiful opportunities to incorporate artful silhouettes and his signature cold, desaturated color palette (only David Fincher can make a palette that deals heavily in oranges and browns feel “cold”).

Fincher’s emphasis on architecture and world-building manifests in a subtle, surprising way—he chooses to shoot a great deal of the film in low angle shots that look up at the characters and expose the ceiling. This creates an air of helplessness that pervades the film, like we’re way over our heads and drowning in despair.

While this hopeless mood ultimately might have contributed to the film’s failure at the box office, it’s an inspired way for David Fincher to communicate a real, tangible world that draws us into it—most sets are built without a ceiling so a lighting grid can be easily installed overhead, but by showing the audience the existence of a ceiling, it subconsciously tells us we are in a place that exists in real life… and that the events of the film could very well happen to us.

Fincher and Thomson’s camerawork in ALIEN 3 is also worth noting. Fincher has always had a firm, visionary command of camera movement, and the considerable resources of studio backing allows him to indulge in sweeping, virtuoso moves that bring a fresh, terrifying energy to the film.

A particular highlight is a tunnel sequence towards the end of the film, where the xenomorph chases the inmates through a huge, twisting labyrinth. David Fincher uses a steadicam that assumes the POV of the Xenomorph as it rages through the tunnels, twisting and spinning at seemingly impossible angles to communicate the alien’s terrifying agility and speed.

The industrial, foreboding nature of Fincher’s visuals are echoed in composer Elliot Goldenthal’s atmospheric score. Instead of using traditional symphonic arrangements, Goldenthal blurs the line between music and sound effects by incorporating non-instruments and electronic machinations into an atonal blend of sounds.

In many ways, this approach proves to be even scarier than a conventional orchestral sound could conjure up. To reflect the medieval, religious nature of Fury 161’s inhabitants, Goldenthal also adapts haunting choral requiems that weave themselves into his tapestry of ominous sounds and tones.

ALIEN 3’s infamous production disasters are well documented, hopefully as a means to ensure that the film industry as a collective learns from the production’s mistakes. These woes began during the earliest stages of pre-production which saw the hiring and resigning of director Renny Harlin before Vincent Ward came onboard for a short period to realize his vision of a wooden cathedral planet populated by apocalyptic monks.

While a semblance of this conceit remains in the finished film, the script was changed radically several times before cameras started rolling, and even then the filmmakers didn’t have a finished version to work from. The ramifications of this were numerous, from actors being frustrated with constantly-changing character arcs, plot inconsistencies, and even $7 million being wasted on sets that were built and never used.

The process was particularly hard on David Fincher, who was constantly fighting a losing battle against incessant studio meddling that overruled his decisions and undermined his authority. Fed up with the lack of respect his vision was being given, the young director barely hung on long enough to wrap production, and walked off entirely when it came time for editing. The fact that he ever decided to make another feature film again after that ordeal is something of a miracle.

Despite constant challenges to his control of the film, Fincher’s hand is readily apparent in every frame of ALIEN 3. A science fiction film such as this is heavily reliant on special effects, a niche that David Fincher’s background at ILM makes him well suited for.

Computer-generated imagery was still in its infancy in 1992, so Fincher and company had to pull off ALIEN 3’s steam-punk vision of hell and the devil through a considered mix of miniatures, puppets, animatics and matte paintings. Some of the earliest CGI in film history is also seen here in the film, in the scene where the skull of the hot-lead-covered Xenomorph cracks under the sudden onset of cold water before exploding.

Fincher’s fascination with technology plays well into the ALIEN universe, where the complete absence of technology—and for that matter, weapons—is used as a compelling plot device to generate suspense and amplify the hopelessness of the characters’ scenario. In order to vanquish the monster, they ultimately have to resort to the oldest form of technology known to mankind: fire.

ALIEN 3 fared decently at the box office, mostly due to franchise recognition and the considerable fan base built up by the film’s two predecessors, but was mercilessly savaged by critics (as was to be expected).

Long considered the worst entry in the series until Jeanne-Pierre Jeunet gave David Fincher a run for his money with 1997’s ALIEN: EVOLUTION, ALIEN 3 has become something of a cult classic as Fincher’s profile has risen. Fans forgave the film of its transgressions because they knew Fincher’s vision had been hijacked and tampered with. They knew that somewhere out there, in the countless reels of film that were shot, David Fincher’s original vision was waiting to be given shape.

In 2003, Fox attempted to make amends by creating a new edit of the film, dubbed the Assembly Cut, for release in their Alien Quadrilogy DVD box set. Fincher refused to participate in the re-edit, understandably, so Fox had to go off his notes in restoring the auteur’s original vision.

The 2003 Assembly Cut differs markedly from the 1992 original, restoring entire character arcs and adding a good 50 minutes worth of footage back into the story. There’s several key changes in this new cut, like Ripley being discovered on the beach instead of her escape pod, the Xenomorph bursting out of an ox (and not a dog), and the removal of the newborn alien queen bursting out of Ripley’s chest as she falls to her death.

The end result is a much better version of the film, giving us greater insight to the characters and their actions. While it doesn’t quite make up for the studio’s stunning lack of respect for Fincher during the making of the film, it ultimately proved that their concerns that the untested young director didn’t know what he was doing were completely unfounded, and were the film’s ultimate undoing.

The experience of making ALIEN 3 would be enough for any director to quit filmmaking forever, but thankfully this wasn’t the end for David Fincher. He would go back to the music video and commercial sector to lick his wounds for a while, but his true feature breakout was just on the horizon.


COMMERICALS & MUSIC VIDEO (1992-1995)

The abject failure of ALIEN 3 was director David Fincher’s first high-profile disappointment. It nearly made him swear off filmmaking altogether and he publicly even threatened as much— but when the dust settled, Fincher was able to slip back into commercial and music video directing with ease. Working once again in his comfort sphere, David Fincher churned out some of his best promotional work between the years 1992 and 1995.

NIKE: “INSTANT KARMA” (1992)

1992 saw sports gear giant Nike commission Fincher for a trio of commercials. The most well-known of these is “INSTANT KARMA”, which mimics the energetic pace of music videos. David Fincher’s touch is immediately evident here, with his high-contrast look that incorporates key components of his style like silhouettes and a cold color scheme.


NIKE: “BARKLEY ON BROADWAY” (1992)

Nike’s “BARKELY ON BROADWAY” is shot in black and white, a curious choice for a high-profile spot like this. The central conceit of a theatrical stage show lends itself quite well to Fincher’s talent for imaginative production design and lighting. Like “INSTANT KARMA”, “BARKLEY ON BROADWAY” has taken on something of a cult status, especially because of Charles Barkley’s cheeky persona.


NIKE: “MAGAZINE WARS” (1992)

The third spot, “MAGAZINE WARS”, revolves around the conceit of sports magazine covers in a newsstand coming to life and causing a mess. The idea is heavily reliant on visual effects, which comes naturally to David Fincher. While it’s a brilliant idea, it’s one that’s most likely inspired by a similar scene in Gus Van Sant’s feature MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO, which had come out only a year earlier.


NIKE: “BARKLEY OF SEVILLE” (1993)

In 1993, Fincher once again collaborated with NBA superstar Charles Barkley on another spot for Nike called “BARKLEY OF SEVILLE” that makes use of some potent old world imagery that David Fincher’s prime influence Stanley Kubrick used so excellently in 1975’s BARRY LYNDON (while also foreshadowing the eerie Illuminati imagery that Kubrick would depict inEYES WIDE SHUT six years later). The piece is textbook Fincher, featuring a dueling orange and blue color palette, theatrical lighting that highlights some excellent production design and casts artful silhouettes.


BUDWEISER: “GINGER OR MARIANNE” (1993)

Also in 1993, Fincher took on two spots for Budweiser beer. The first, “GINGER OR MARIANNE” features young adults playing pool and debating their preferences of old TV character crushes. The pool hall is lit in smoky, desaturated warm tones with high contrast, as per Fincher’s established aesthetic.


BUDWEISER: “CLASSIC ROCK” (1993)

The second Budweiser spot, “CLASSIC ROCK”, features a handful of middle-aged dudes golfing and arguing over their favorite acts. David Fincher utilizes the high contrast natural light on the scenic golf course, supplementing it with a subtle gliding camera as it follows the characters. The result is a pretty conventional, but no less well-crafted, piece of advertising.


CHANEL: “THE DIRECTOR” (1993)

Fincher’s spot for Chanel, called “THE DIRECTOR”, is an excellent example of his “grunge-glam” aesthetic. The piece makes evocative use of its cold, blue color palette and smoky, European urban setting, with the director’s high contrast lighting bouncing off the wet streets and old-world architecture. Fincher’s fondness for revealing the artifice of the shooting process is incorporated into the narrative, as his opening vignette is revealed to be the shoot for a large movie, with the titular director being shown mostly in abstract, silhouette form.

COCA-COLA: “BLADE ROLLER” (1993)

Fincher’s filmography owes a lot to the work of Ridley Scott and his brother, Tony Scott. Ridley’s influence in particular is deeply felt in the fundamental building blocks of David Fincher’s aesthetic, and Fincher’s “BLADE ROLLER” spot for Coca-Cola seems to be directly lifted from Ridley’s visionary sci-fi masterpiece BLADE RUNNER (1982).

We see a dystopian city of the future, characterized by neon lights and Asian architecture, bathed in perpetual smoke and soaked through to the bone. Fincher’s signature high contrast, cold look plays directly into the BLADE RUNNER style, which the young director builds upon by adding his own flourishes like artful silhouettes and a high-energy camera that screams through the cityscape.“BLADE ROLLER” is one of David Fincher’s most well-known commercials, and easily one of his best.


AT&T: “YOU WILL” CAMPAIGN (1993)

It’s not uncommon for advertisers to create entire campaigns with multiple spots centered around a singular idea. In 1993, AT&T wanted to communicate how their technologies were going to be at the forefront of the digital revolution, which would have long-term ramifications for how we live our lives and connect with others.

To convey this message, AT&T hired Fincher—a director well known for his fascination with technology—for their “YOU WILL” campaign. The campaign is a series of seven spots that actually predict many of the things that are commonplace today, albeit in a laughably clunky, primitive form that was the 90’s version of “hi-tech”.

The spots show us various vignettes of people connecting with others through AT&T’s theoretical future tech: GPS navigation, doctors looking at injuries over video-link, video phone calls, sending faxes over tablets, and more. Fincher’s high contrast, cold palette serves him well with this campaign, further enhancing the appeal of this promising technology that aims to transform our lives.

Looking back at these spots over twenty years, it’s easy to laugh at the clunky tech on display, but it’s remarkable how much of it they actually got right.


MADONNA: “BAD GIRL” (1993)

David Fincher’s output during this period of his career was heavily weighted with commercials, but he did make a few music videos, one of which was another collaboration with pop diva Madonna for her track “BAD GIRL”.

The video incorporates some Hollywood talent in the form of Christopher Walken who plays a silent, watchful guardian angel of sorts and supporting character stalwart Jim Rebhorn, who would later appear in Fincher’s THE GAME four years later.

The look of“BAD GIRL” is similar to Fincher’s previous collaborations with Madonna, featuring high contrast lighting, diffused highlights and a smoky, cold color palette. The video is very cinematic, no doubt owing to a large budget afforded by the combined clout of Madonna and David Fincher (as well as Walken’s goofy dancing, seen briefly towards the middle).


LEVI’S: “KEEP IT LOOSE” (1993)

The first of several spots that Fincher would take on for jeans-maker Levi’s, “KEEP IT LOOSE” features the director’s iconic blue color palette as a static background, with a variety of actors composited into the scene dancing wildly and expressing themselves in their hilariously baggy 90’s jeans.


LEVI’S: “REASON 259: RIVETS” (1994)

1994 saw several more Levi’s spots put on Fincher’s plate, with “REASON 259: RIVETS” being the standout. The piece features the cold, blue high contrast look David Fincher is known for, along with a premise centering around tech—in this instance, a machine that is able to punch a single jeans rivet into someone’s nose as a decorative stud. The spot as it exists online currently can’t be embedded, but you can watch it here.


THE ROLLING STONES: “LOVE IS STRONG” (1994)

Fincher’s video for The Rolling Stones’ “LOVE IS STRONG” is shot in high contrast black and white, featuring grungy bohemian types in a smoky, urban setting.

The video shows off Fincher’s natural talent for visual effects, as he composites his actors as giants against various NYC landmarks, using the dwarfed city below them as their own personal playground. It’s a pretty simple concept, but extremely well-executed and staged—a credit to Fincher’s meticulousness.


SE7EN (1995)

In the mid-90’s, a script by newcomer Andrew Kevin Walker called SE7EN (a stylization of “seven”) was making the rounds and generating excitement all over town. Readers and creative executives alike hailed its bold, original storyline and that ending.

That audacious, coup-de-grace ending that nobody saw coming. That ending that could possibly never be put into the finished film and thus had to be rewritten and castrated into oblivion for fear that its inclusion could break cinema itself. Indulgent hyperbole aside, it was the ending that cajoled a young David Fincher back into the director’s seat that he had so publicly sworn off after a catastrophic experience with his debut, ALIEN 3 (1992).

While David Fincher didn’t have enough clout on his own to drop mandates that the original ending would remain as written, his stars (Hollywood heavyweights) Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman did, and they used that clout to back up this untested auteur. As such, Fincher was in an enviable position to infuse this hauntingly original story—free from the baggage of franchise—with his unflinching style and uncompromising vision.

SE7EN takes place in an unnamed, crumbling metropolis of perpetual precipitation and endless blight—an oppressive environment where hope goes to die. Detective Somerset (Morgan Freeman), a longtime member of the city’s police force, is in his last week of retirement, with a young, headstrong detective named Mills (Brad Pitt) arriving in town to take his place.

On their first day together, they are called to a murder scene where an obese man has been forced to literally eat himself to death.

Initially assuming it to be another one of the city’s routine murders—business as usual—, a similar scene at a lawyer’s office the next day (where the victim was forced to carve up his own body and the word “greed” is painted on the floor in his blood) prompts a second look at the fat man’s murder scene (where Somerset finds “gluttony” written in grease behind the fridge).

This discovery prompts the detectives to realize that they are in the midst of a killing spree perpetrated by a psychopath who carries out his murders in accordance with the seven deadly sins and leaves behind grisly scenes that taunt and challenge his pursuers. With the days passing and the bodies piling up, Somerset and Mills must race against time to deduce the killer’s identity and stop him before his grand plan reaches its shocking and grisly conclusion.

Morgan Freeman is pitch perfect as the insightful, bookish Detective Somerset—a man haunted by the mistakes of his past and the city that threatens to consume him. His presence lends a great deal of gravitas and authority to the film, grounding the outlandish story developments in reason and logic and making them all the more scarier because of their realism.

Brad Pitt’s performance as the hotheaded, impatient Detective Mills is interesting in that the performance itself tends to be wooden at times but we as the audience are still pulled into his swirling emotional whirlpool.

Perhaps it’s only because Pitt has become such a sublimely subtle actor in the twenty years since that his forcefulness in SE7EN reads now as a younger man struggling with inherent talent but an unpolished craft. Mills’ impatience and stubbornness is well set-up throughout the film—when assigned a handful of heavy philosophical books by Somerset, he opts instead to read the Cliff Notes versions.

Because he takes shortcuts and is quick to action without necessarily thinking things through, he’s in a prime position to be manipulated by Spacey’s John Doe and play into his twisted, murderous scheme.

Speaking of John Doe, Kevin Spacey absolutely murders it as SE7EN’s creepy, calculating killer (puns!). Spacey imbues this psychopath with a degree of intelligence and brilliance that one doesn’t necessarily expect in their garden-variety serial killer.

For Doe, his life’s work IS his life—he has no job or relationships to speak of, only a single-minded focus to complete his grand plan and etch himself permanently into the criminal history books. As evidenced by Netflix’s HOUSE OF CARDS series, Spacey is at his best under Fincher’s direction, and their first collaboration together in SE7EN results in the actor’s most mesmerizing performance in a career stuffed with them.

While the potency of SE7EN’s story hinges on this trifecta of brilliant performers, Fincher doesn’t skimp in the supporting department either. He enlists Gwyneth Paltrow (who coincidentally was dating Pitt at the time) to play Pitt’s supportive, sweet wife, Tracy.

Paltrow has something of a bland reputation of an actress, but collaborating with auteurs like David Fincher, James Gray, or Paul Thomas Anderson bring out the very best in her and remind us why she’s an excellent actress.

Paltrow takes what could easily be the standard non-confrontational, supporting house wife stock character and infuses it with a creeping pathos and dread— grappling with moral conflict over bringing a child into the dark, overbearing world that Fincher has created on-screen.

In another nod to director Stanly Kubrick’s profound influence on Fincher, FULL METAL JACKET’s (1987) fire-and-brimstone drill sergeant R. Lee Ermey shows up here as Somerset’s weary precinct captain. Additionally, John C McGinley shows up against-type as a militaristically macho SWAT commander, as does Mark Boone Junior as a shady, scruffy informant to Somerset.

To accomplish his stark, pitch-black vision, Fincher enlists the eye of cinematographer Darius Khondji, who is able to translate David Fincher’s signature aesthetic (high contrast lighting, cold color palette, silhouettes and deep wells of shadow) onto the 35mm film image.

The film is presented in the 2.35:1 anamorphic aspect ratio, but in watching some of the film’s supplemental features (and with no other evidence to go on), I’m convinced that Fincher and Khondji didn’t actually shoot anamorphic.

It appears the 2.35:1 aspect ratio was achieved via a matte in post-production, which plays into Fincher’s reputation as a visual perfectionist who uses digital technology to exert control over the image down to the smallest detail. This control extends to the camera movement, which uses cranes and dollies for measured effect, echoing John Doe’s precise, predetermined nature.

In fact, the only time that Fincher goes handheld is during the foot-chase sequence in Doe’s apartment complex and the finale in the desert, both of which are the only moments in the film that the balance of control is tipped out of any one person’s favor, leaving only chaos to determine what happens next.

While SE7EN was filmed in downtown Los Angeles, David Fincher intended for it to stand in for an unnamed East Coast city, which he successfully achieved via a mix of careful location selection and production designer Arthur Max’s vision of oppressive decay.

A never-ending, torrential downpour of rain amplifies Fincher’s signature grunge aesthetic, although its presence was initially less about thematics and more about creating continuity with Pitt’s scenes (who had to film all of his part first before leaving to work on Terry Gilliam’s 12 MONKEYS).

Howard Shore crafts an ominous score that utilizes a particular brassy sound evocative of old-school noir cinema, but its’ in Fincher’s source cue selection that SE7EN’s music really stands out.

He uses a cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” for the opening credits, foreshadowing David Fincher’s later collaborations with NIN frontman Trent Reznor on the scores for THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010) and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011).

Other standout cues include a Marvin Gaye track playing in the Mills apartment, and—in another nod to Kubrick—classical arrangements that waft through the cavernous library Somerset conducts his research in.

It’s also worth highlighting SE7EN as Fincher’s first collaboration with Ren Klyce, who would go on create the visceral, evocative soundscapes of Fincher’s subsequent films.

Overall, SE7EN is a supreme technical achievement on all fronts— a fact realized by the studio (New Line Cinema), who then mounted an aggressive awards campaign on the film’s behalf. Only Richard Francis-Bruce’s crisp editing was nominated at the Academy Awards, with neither David Fincher nor his stellar cast getting a nod.

Despite the cast turning in great, truly original performances, it’s apparent that Fincher’s emphasis on the visuals and the technical aspects of the production came at the expense of devoting as much energy and attention to the performances as he probably should have.

The result is a visually groundbreaking film with slightly wooden performances, despite the cast’s best efforts and a first-rate narrative.

An oft-mentioned aspect of SE7EN is its haunting opening credits sequence, designed by Kyle Cooper. The sequence acts as a preview of John Doe’s meticulous psychosis, with jittery text trying to literally crawl away from the disturbing images that we’re shown in quick, rapid succession.

Shot separately from the main shoot after the original scripted opening credits sequence was trashed, the piece both pulls us into this sick, twisted world and prepares us for what comes next. The sequence was shot by late, great cinematographer Harris Savides—who would go on to lens Fincher’s THE GAME (1997) and ZODIAC (2007)—and edited by Angus Wall, who has since become one of David Fincher’s key editors.

Fincher, more so than a great deal of his contemporaries, uses the opening credits of his features to set the mood and the tone of his story in a highly creative and stimulating style. His incorporation of the technique began in earnest with SE7EN, but the practice hails back to the work of Alfred Hitchchock, who pioneered the idea of opening credits as part of the storytelling and not just an arbitrary device to let the audience know who did what.

SE7EN is one of the earliest instances in Fincher’s feature filmography in which his aesthetic coalesces into something immediately identifiable—no small feat for a man at bat for only the second time. The film places a subtle, yet strong emphasis on architecture—specifically, an early twentieth-century kind of civic architecture seen in noir films and old New York buildings (a mix of classical and art deco).

There’s a distinct claustrophobic feeling to the city David Fincher is portraying, which is reinforced by his framing of several shots from a low angle looking up at the ceiling (implying that the walls are closing in around our characters).

Fincher’s fascination with technology is also reflected in a mix of cutting-edge forensic tools and outdated computer systems that are used by the protagonists to find their man. Lastly, a strong air of nihilism marks Fincher’s filmography, with the incorporation of its philosophy giving SE7EN its pitch-black resonance.

Several story elements, like the moral ambiguity of Detective Mills, the rapid decay of the city aided and abetted by uncaring bureaucrats, and the darkly attractive nature of John Doe’s crimes cause a severe existential crisis for our protagonists.

SE7EN was a huge hit upon its release, and put David Fincher on the map in a way that ALIEN 3 never did (or could have done)—precisely because it was an original property in which Fincher could assert himself, free from the excessive studio needling that plagued top-dollar franchises back then (and still today).

This freedom resulted in one of the most shocking thrillers in recent memory, jolting audiences from apathy and re-energizing a fear response that had been dulled by the onslaught of uninspired slasher films during the 80’s.

SE7EN, along with Fincher’s other zeitgeist-y film FIGHT CLUB (1999), is frequently cited as one of the best pictures of the 90’s, perfectly capturing the existential, grungy essence of the decade. Above all, SE7EN is a gift—for David Fincher, another chance to prove himself after the failure of ALIEN 3, and for us, a groundbreaking new voice in the cinematic conversation.

That, my friends, is what was in the box.


THE GAME (1997)

Director David Fincher had built up quite a career for himself in the commercial and music video realm through his association with Propaganda Films. After the breakout success of his feature SE7EN (1995), Fincher was able to leverage this newfound clout into a collaboration with Propaganda for his third feature, a suspenseful puzzle thriller in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock called THE GAME (1997).

THE GAME’s origins are interesting in and of itself, with Fincher actually being attached to direct the script by John Brancato and Michael Ferris as his return to features after his abysmal experience onALIEN 3 (1992). The sudden availability of SE7EN star Brad Pitt forced the production of that film to go first and delayed THE GAME by several years.

Ultimately, this proved to be a good thing, as SE7EN’s runaway success set THE GAME up for similar success with a built-in audience hungry for the visionary director’s next work.

Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) is a wealthy investment banker who lives by himself in a huge mansion outside of San Francisco. His solitary existence keeps him at an emotional distance to those around him, a result of some deep emotional scarring that stemmed from his father’s suicide during childhood.

On a particularly fateful birthday (having reached the age his father was when he killed himself), Nick’s brother Conrad (Sean Penn) shows up with an unusual present: the opportunity to participate in a live-action game, organized by an enigmatic entertainment company called Consumer Recreation Services.

Nick ventures over to the CRS offices to indulge his curiosity, but after a rigorous mental and physical evaluation, he’s ultimately deemed unfit to take part in the game.

So imagine his surprise when he arrives home that night to find a clown mannequin in his driveway (placed in the same position that his father was found after jumping off the mansion’s roof), and the nightly news anchor interrupts his television broadcast to address Nick personally and announce the beginning of his “Game”.

Trying to ascertain just what exactly is going on, Nick follows a series of perplexing and macabre clues, eventually encountering a waitress named Christine (Deborah Kara Unger) who may or may not be a part of this Game.

As his life is manipulated to increasingly dangerous degrees, Nick loses control of his orderly lifestyle and begins to question CRS’ true intentions for him—- is this really just a game, or is it an elaborate con designed to drain his considerable fortune and rub him out in the process?

With THE GAME, Fincher has constructed an intricate puzzle for the audience to solve, wisely placing the narrative firmly within Nick’s perspective so that we’re taken along for his wild ride. Because the story is so dependent on shocking twists and turns, subsequent re-watchings can’t replicate the exhilarating experience of seeing it for the first time.

However, Fincher does a great job of peppering clues throughout that are so subtle I didn’t even notice them until my fourth time around, such as Unger’s character being on the periphery of the first restaurant scene without so much as a close-up or wide shot of her face to announce her presence.

Likewise, Nick’s first visit to CRS contains a strange interaction wherein the receptionist appears to give an order to the Vice President of Engineering (played by recently-diseased character actor James Rebhorn)—- why would a receptionist be telling a VP what to do?

These are only two subtle clues in a story that’s absolutely stuffed with them, which makes for something new to find with each re-watching.

Douglas turns in a fine performance as a cold, lizard-like Scrooge archetype. Nicolas Van Orton plays like a subdued, less flamboyant version of WALL STREET’s Gordon Gekko, which works because the distant, calculating aristocrat archetype is one that Douglas can pull off better than anyone.

David Fincher’s casting of Douglas also adds reinforcement to the idea of Fincher as Stanley Kubrick’s heir apparent (Douglas’ father, Kirk Douglas, was also a famous film star who headlined Kubrick’s PATHS OF GLORY (1957) and SPARTACUS (1960).

As the cold, cynical waitress Christine, Deborah Kara Unger is a great foil to Douglas’ character, as well as an inspired female part that resists becoming a conventional “love interest” trope. Her ability to mask her feelings and intentions is crucial to the success of THE GAME, leaving Douglas and the audience constantly trying to figure out where her loyalties lay.

Sean Penn’s role as younger brother Conrad is smaller than his usual performances, but he is no less memorable as a disheveled, mischievous agent of chaos. The late character actor James Rebhorn may have never held the spotlight in his own right, but every one of his performances was never anything less than solid, as can be seen in his performance as the disorganized, CRS VP of Engineering Jim Feingold. Rebhorn’s talents get a chance to truly shine in THE GAME, becoming the human face of the ominous CRS entity and, by extension, the film’s de facto antagonist.

David Fincher also throws in some small cameos in the form of fellow Propaganda director Spike Jonze as a medic towards the conclusion and SE7EN’s Mark Boone Junior as a private investigator tailing Nick.

THE GAME is also Fincher’s first collaboration with the late, great cinematographer Harris Savides in the feature world (they had previously shot a number of commercials together). The anamorphic 35mm film frame is awash in steely blues and teals, accentuated by high contrast lighting that signifies David Fincher’s signature touch. Flashback sequences filmed on 8mm provide a dreamlike nostalgia that appropriately dances along the line of sentimentality and melancholy.

Savides is well-suited to translate Fincher’s vision to screen, ably creating a push-and-pull dichotomy between the sleek polish of Nick’s old money world and the slick CRS offices and the seedy grunge of the back alleyways and slums that Nick’s Game takes him to.

The film is essentially about Nick’s loss of control, which juxtaposes his confused flailing against deliberate, observational compositions and precise dolly movements as a way to echo CRS’ forceful herding of Nick along a predetermined path.

This visual precision is highly reminiscent of Kubrick’s work, and very well may be what it would have looked like if Kubrick had ever decided to make an Alfred Hitchchock thriller. Another nod to Kubrick can see in the video slideshow that Nick watches as part of his initial evaluation, which in and of itself highly resembles its infamous counterpart in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971).

SE7EN’s Howard Shore returns to create the score for THE GAME, crafting an intriguing, brassy sound to reflect the propulsive mystery and peppered with a tinge of melancholy piano that hints at Nick’s inability to move past his father’s death.

David Fincher’s stellar ear for needle drops also results in the incorporation of the White Rabbits’ iconic “Somebody To Love” as a psychedelic taunting mechanism in the scene where Nick arrives at his mansion to find it’s been vandalized with black light graffiti.

All of these elements are tied together by Ren Klyce’s sound design into an evocative sonic landscape that draws us further into the puzzle.

Fincher’s music video work often explored the boundaries of the film frame, transgressing arbitrary lines to see what was being hidden from view. Most of the time, this meant that the artifice of the production process (crew, set facades, equipment, etc.) was made known to the viewer.

THE GAME is an appropriate avenue to explore this idea in feature form because the story concerns itself with what happens when Nick is essentially placed inside of his own movie. This plays out in the form of any close inspection of a given object or development by Nick reveals its inherent fakery and connection to filmmaking.

Christine’s apartment is revealed as a fake set via various set dressing techniques Nick stumbles upon. The hail of gunfire directed at Nick and Christine by masked gunmen is comprised of harmless blanks. Nick’s iconic plunge from the top of a San Francisco skyscraper is cushioned by a giant stunt airbag.

The game Nick has been thrust into is an elaborate, deliberate manipulation of actors and events designed to take him on a film-like character arc and transformation.

To this effect, architecture (another of David Fincher’s thematic fascinations) plays a huge role in the proceedings. Fincher’s locations and sets are always architecturally impressive, and THE GAME doesn’t disappoint in the classical style seen in Nick’s mansion and San Francisco’s financial district, as well as the sleek modernity of CRS’ futuristic offices.

David Fincher often frames his subjects from a low angle in order to show the ceilings—this accomplishes the dual effect of establishing the realism of the space as well as conveying a subtle sense of claustrophobia (a sensation very important to THE GAME’s tension).

Production designer Jeffrey Beecroft makes great use of lines as a way to direct your eye (especially in the CRS headquarters set). These lines subtly point Nick (and by extension, us) in the right direction to go despite the orchestrated chaos around him.

Fincher is able to find several instances within the story to indulge in other fascinations. THE GAME uses technology to striking ends in advancing the plot, like the television magically talking to Nick in his own home, or the hidden video camera lodged inside the clown mannequin’s eye.

A distinct punk aesthetic runs through Fincher’s filmography, with the most literal examples being found in FIGHT CLUB (1999) and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011), but even in a cold-Scrooge-turned-good tale such as THE GAME, David Fincher is able to incorporate elements of punk culture in a natural way (the aforementioned mansion break-in and black light graffiti vandalism sequence).

And finally, Fincher’s approach to the story is informed by a nihilistic sensibility, in that Nick is inherently a cynical, selfish person, along with the prominent theme of suicide and the ultimate revelation of the film’s events as orchestrated manipulations and inherently false.

THE GAME was a modest hit upon its release, bolstered by a compelling story and strong performances that were, in this author’s opinion, much better than those seen in SE7EN. By achieving a balance between engrossing performances and superb technical mastery, Fincher shows off huge growth as a director with THE GAME.

Ultimately, the film itself was somewhat lost in the sea of late 90’s releases, and for the longest time it languished on a bare-bones catalog DVD with a neglected transfer. Thankfully, THE GAME has undergone something of a cultural reappraisal with the release of The Criterion Collection’s outstanding Blu Ray transfer.

Now, THE GAME is often referenced among film circles in the same breath as his best work, and is fondly remembered as one of the best films of the 1990’s (alongside SE7EN and FIGHT CLUB). For David Fincher, THE GAME cemented his reputation as a great director with hard edge and reliable commercial appeal.


FIGHT CLUB (1999)

1999’s FIGHT CLUB was the first David Fincher film I ever saw, and it became a watershed moment for me in that it was absolutely unlike any movie I had ever seen. Granted, I was only in middle school at the time and hadn’t quite discovered the world of film at large beyond what was available in the multiplex.

FIGHT CLUB was one of the earliest experiences that turned me on to the idea of a director having a distinct style, a stamp he could punch onto the film that claimed it as his own. My own experience with FIGHT CLUB was easily dwarfed by the larger reaction to the film, which has since become something of an anthem for Generation X—a bottling up of the 90’s zeitgeist that fermented into a potent countercultural brew.

Coming off the modest success of 1997’s THE GAME, director David Fincher was in the process of looking for a follow-up project when he was sent “Fight Club”, a novel by the groundbreaking author (and Portland son) Chuck Palahniuk.

A self-avowed non-reader, David Fincher nonetheless blazed through the novel, and by the time he had put the book down he knew it was going to be his next project. There was just one problem—the book had been optioned and was in development at Twentieth Century Fox, his sworn enemies.

Their incessant meddling and subterfuge during the production of Fincher’s ALIEN 3(1992) made for a miserable shooting experience, ultimately ruined the film, and nearly caused Fincher to swear off feature filmmaking forever.

This time, however, he would be ready. He was now a director in high demand, having gained significant clout from the success of SE7EN (1995), and he used said clout to successfully pitch his vision of FIGHT CLUB to Laura Ziskin and the other executives at Fox.

The studio had learned the error of its ways and was eager to mend relations with the maverick director, so they allowed him a huge amount of leeway in realizing his vision. Armed with the luxury of not having to bend to the whims of nervous studio executives, David Fincher was able to fashion a pitch-black comedy about masculinity in crisis and the battle between modern commercialism and our primal, animalistic natures.

The novel takes place in Wilmington, Delaware (home to the headquarters of several major credit card companies), but Fincher sets his adaptation in an unnamed city, mostly because of legal clearance reasons (which would have been a nightmare considering how much FIGHT CLUB disparages major corporations and institutions).

Our protagonist is the unnamed Narrator (Edward Norton), an insomniac office drone obsessed with Swedish furniture and support groups for serious, terminal diseases he doesn’t have. He finds in these support groups an emotional release and a cure for his insomnia, achieving a stasis that props him up while pushing down the nagging feeling that he’s wasting his life away.

His world is up-ended by the arrival of the acidic Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter), a fellow support group freeloader that confounds his perceived progress at all turns.

Constant travel because of his job as a recall analyst for a major car manufacturer provides some relief, and it is on one particular flight home that he meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), whose effortless cool is unlike anything the Narrator has found in his so-called “single-serving” flight companions. Upon returning home, he finds his apartment has blown up due to mysterious circumstances. With nowhere else to turn, the Narrator calls up Tyler on a whim, who offers him a place at his ramshackle squatter mansion on the industrial fringes of town.

As the two men bond, they discover a cathartic release from an unexpected source: fighting. They channel this release into the founding of an underground brawling organization called Fight Club, where similarly culturally disenfranchised men can get together and unleash their primal side in bareknuckle grappling matches.

Soon, the duo’s entire outlook on life and masculinity changes, with the Narrator in particular taking charge of his own destiny and liberating himself from his perceived shackles at work.

In Fight Club, they have tapped into something very primal within the male psyche—a psyche subdued in the wake of rampant commercialism, feminism, and political correctness, just itching to be unleashed.

Fight Club grows larger than Tyler or The Narrator had ever hoped or expected, with satellite chapters popping up in other cities and the purpose of the secretive club evolving to include acts of domestic terrorism and anarchy.

When The Narrator finds himself losing control of the monster that they’ve created, he comes into mortal conflict with Tyler, who has gone off the deep end in his attempts to fundamentally and radically change the world.

Norton brings a droll, dry sense of humor to his performance as the Narrator, a medicated and sedate man who must “wake up”. In what is one of his most memorable roles, Norton ably projects the perverse, profoundly morbid thoughts of his character with sardonic wit and a sickly physicality. This frail, scrawny physicality is all the more remarkable considering Norton had just come off the production of Tony Kaye’s AMERICAN HISTORY X (1998), where made him bulk up with a considerable amount of muscle.

In his second collaboration with David Fincher after their successful team-up in SE7EN, Brad Pitt also turns in a career highlight performance as Tyler Durden, a soap salesman and anarchist with a weaponized masculinity and radical, seductive worldview that he is fully committed to living out.

His character’s name and persona have entered our pop culture lexicon as the personification of the unleashed, masculine id and the grungy, counter-commercial mentalities that defined the 1990’s.

Helena Bonham Carter counters the overbearing masculinity of David Fincher’s vision while oddly complementing it as Marla Singer, the very definition of a hot mess. Marla is a cold, cynical woman dressed up in black, Goth affectations.

Her aggressive feminine presence is an appropriate counterbalance to Tyler Durden’s roaring machismo, as well as serves to highlight the film’s homoerotic undertones. Meat Loaf, a popular musician in his own right, plays Bob—a huge, blubbering mess with “bitch tits” and a cuddly demeanor, while Jared Leto bleaches his hair to the point of anonymity in his role as a prominent acolyte of Durden’s (and thorn in the side of The Narrator).

To achieve FIGHT CLUB’s oppressively grungy look, David Fincher enlists the eye of cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, the son of legendary DP Jordan Cronenweth (who had previously worked with Fincher on ALIEN 3). The younger Cronenweth would go on to lens several of Fincher’s later works due to the strength of their first collaboration on FIGHT CLUB.

The film is shot on Super 35mm and presented in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio, but it wasn’t shot anamorphic—it was instead shot with spherical lenses in order to help convey the gritty tone Fincher intended. Indeed, FIGHT CLUB is easily David Fincher’s grungiest work to date—the image is coated in a thick layer of grime and sludge that’s representative of the toxic philosophies espoused by its antihero subjects.

The foundation of FIGHT CLUB’s distinct look is built with Fincher’s aesthetic signature: high contrast lighting (with lots of practical lights incorporated into the framing), and a cold, sickly green/teal color tint. David Fincher and Cronenweth further expanded on this by employing a combination of contrast-stretching, underexposing, and re-silvering during the printing process in order to achieve a dirty, decaying look.

The production of FIGHT CLUB also generated some of the earliest public reports of Fincher’s proclivity for shooting obscene numbers of takes—a technique also employed by David Fincher’s cinematic forebear, Stanley Kubrick.

Both men employed the technique as a way to exert control over their actors’ performances and wear them down to a place of naturalistic “non-acting”. While this earns the ire of many a performer, it also earn as much respect for a director willing to sit through the tedium of dozens upon dozens of takes in order to really mold a performance in the editing room.

In a career full of visually dynamic films, FIGHT CLUB is easily the most volatile and kinetic of them all. Fincher employs a number of visual tricks to help convey a sense of surrealist reality: speed-ramping, playing with the scale of objects (i.e, presenting the contents of a garbage can as if we were flying through the Grand Canyon), and Norton’s Narrator breaking the fourth wall to address the audience directly (a technique he’d later use to infamous effect in Netflix’s HOUSE OF CARDS series).

Production designer Alex McDowell supplements David Fincher’s grimy vision with imaginative, dungeon-like sets in which to house this unleashed sense of masculinity, all while countering the sterile, color-less environments of the Narrator’s office and apartment.

Interestingly enough, the Narrator’s apartment is based almost exactly off of Fincher’s first apartment in (soul-suckingly bland) Westwood, an apartment he claims that he had always wanted to blow up.

THE GAME’s James Haygood returns to sew all these elements together into a breathtaking edit with manic pacing and psychotic energy, creating something of an apex of the particular sort of music-video-style editing that emerged in 90’s feature films.

FIGHT CLUB might just be the farthest thing (commercially-speaking) from a conventional Hollywood film, so it stands to reason that a conventional Hollywood score would be ill-fitting at best, and disastrously incompatible at worst. This mean that Howard Shore, who had scored David Fincher’s previous two features, had to go.

Really, ANY conventional film composer had to go in favor of something entirely new. In his selection of electronic trip-hop duo The Dust Brothers, Fincher received a groundbreaking score, comprised almost entirely of drum loops and “found” sounds. I have almost every note from that score memorized—I used to listen to the soundtrack CD almost every day during high school as I did my homework.

And then, of course, there’s The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?”: a rock song that will live in infamy because of its inclusion inFIGHT CLUB’s face-melting finale. Sound and picture are now inextricably linked in our collective consciousness— I defy you to find someone whose perception of that particular song has not been forever colored by the image of skyscrapers imploding on themselves and toppling to the ground.

The music of FIGHT CLUB is further heightened by the contributions of David Fincher’s regular sound designer Ren Klyce, who was awarded with an Oscar nomination for his work on the film.

A main reason that Fincher responded so strongly to his initial reading of Palahniuk’s novel is that it possessed several themes that David Fincher was fascinated by and liked to explore in his films.

On a philosophical level, the story contains strong ties to nihilism with Tyler Durden’s enthusiastic rejection and destruction of institutions and value systems, and the subsequent de-humanization that stems from Fight Club’s evolved mission objective (which extrapolates nihilistic virtues to their extreme).

The novel’s overarching screed against commercialism also appealed to Fincher, who gleefully recognized the inherent irony in a director of commercials making a film about consumerism as the ultimate evil. David Fincher plays up this irony throughout the film by including lots of blatant product placement (there’s apparently a Starbucks cup present in every single scene).

This countercultural cry against commercialism and corporate appeasement is inherently punk, which is yet another aesthetic that Fincher has made potent use of throughout his career.

With FIGHT CLUB, David Fincher also finds ample opportunity to indulge in his own personal fascinations. His background at ILM and subsequent familiarity with visual effects results in an approach that relies heavily on cutting-edge FX.

This can be seen in the strangest sex sequence in cinematic history, which borrows the “bullet-time” photography technique from THE MATRIX (1999) to turn Pitt and Carter into enormous copulating monuments that blend and morph into one single mass of biology.

The idea of stitching numerous still photographs to convey movement (where the traditional use of a motion picture camera would have been impractical or impossible) also allows Fincher to rocket through time and space, such as in the scene where we scream from the top of a skyscraper down to find a van packed with explosives in the basement garage.

Architecture also plays in important role, with Durden’s decrepit (yet organic) house on Paper Street resembling the grand old Victorian houses in LA’s Angelino Heights juxtaposed against the faceless, monolithic city skyscrapers that are destroyed in the film’s climax.

Here, as in his earlier features, David Fincher tends to frame his subjects from a low angle looking up—this is done as a way to establish the realism of his sets and locations while imbuing the subjects themselves with an exaggerated sense of power and authority.

FIGHT CLUB also contains Fincher’s most well-known opening credits sequence: a dizzying roller-coaster ride through the Narrator’s brain.

Beginning with the firing of impulses in the fear center, the camera pulls back at breakneck speed, with our scale changing organically until we emerge from a pore on Norton’s sweat-slicked forehead and slide down the polished nickel of the gun barrel lodged in his mouth.  It’s an incredibly arresting way to start a film, and prepares us for the wild ride ahead.

Finally, FIGHT CLUB allows David Fincher to really play with the boundaries of his frame and reveal the inherent artifice of the film’s making. This conceit is best illustrated in two scenes. The first is the “cigarette burns” projection-room scene where the Narrator reveals Tyler’s fondness for splicing single frames of hardcore pornography into children’s films by explaining the projection process to the audience in layman’s terms.

This scene is present in the novel, but Fincher’s approach of it is further informed by his own experience working as a movie projectionist at the age of 16, where he had a co-worker who collected random snippets of a given film’s most lurid moments into a secret envelope.

The second scene in question is Tyler’s infamous “you are not your fucking khakis” monologue to camera, whereby his intensity causes the film he is recorded onto to literally wobble and expose the film strip’s sprocket holes. The effect is that of the film literally disintegrating before our eyes—the story has gone off the rails and now we’re helpless to do anything but just go along for the ride.

David Fincher’s terrible experience with the studio on ALIEN 3 directly contributed to FIGHT CLUB being as groundbreaking and shocking as it was. When studio executives (most notably Laura Ziskin) inevitably bristled at the sight of David Fincher’s bold, uncompromising vision in all its glory, their attempts to tone it down were blown up in their faces by a director who had already been burned by their tactics once before and was one step ahead of their game.

A great example of this is Ziskin asking David Fincher to change a controversial line (Marla Singer telling Tyler Durden that she wants to have his abortion), which David Fincher responded to by agreeing to change the line under the condition that it couldn’t be changed any further after that. Ziskin quickly agreed, because how could anything be worse than that?

Imagine her outrage, then, when Fincher came back with Marla’s line changed to “I haven’t been fucked like that since grade school” and she couldn’t do anything to change it back. Once David Fincher knew how to play his meddlesome executives to his benefit, he became truly unstoppable.

FIGHT CLUB made its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, and its worldwide theatrical run was met with polarized reviews and box office disappointment. Quite simply, audiences were not ready for Fincher’s abrasive vision.

However, it was one of the first films to benefit from the DVD home video format, where it spread like wildfire amongst eager young cinephiles until it became a bona fide cult hit. It probably couldn’t have been any other way— FIGHT CLUB was made to re-watch over and over again, to pore over all the little details and easter eggs that David Fincher and company peppered throughout to clue us into the true nature of Tyler Durden’s existence.

FIGHT CLUB’s release also had real-world implications in the formation of actual underground fight clubs all across the country. In mining the dramatic potential of a fictional masculinity crisis, FIGHT CLUB tapped into a very real one that was fueled by a noxious brew of feminism, political correct-ness, the new millennium, metrosexuality and frat-boy culture (a subgroup that glorified the carnage and violence while ironically failing to recognize the film’s very palpable homoerotic undertones and thus assuming them into their own lifestyle).

Fifteen years removed from FIGHT CLUB’s release, the film stands as the apex of the cynical pop culture mentality of the 1990’s, as well as a defining thesis statement for a cutting-edge filmmaker with razor-sharp relevancy

If you want more inside info on the making of Fight Club, take a listen to the IFH Interview with FC screenwriter Jim Uhls.


PANIC ROOM (2000)

The expansive, sprawling nature of FIGHT CLUB’s story meant that director David Fincher spent a great deal of the film’s production in a van traveling to and from the film’s four hundred locations. Naturally, he wished to downscale his efforts with his next project and find a story that took place in a single location.

He found it in a screenplay by David Koepp called PANIC ROOM, inspired by true stories of small, impenetrable fortresses that New York City’s wealthy elite were building for themselves inside their homes. Because the story lent itself so well to an overtly Hitchockian style of execution and form, David Fincher approached PANIC ROOM (2002) as an exercise in pure genre, refusing to “elevate” the material with the infusion of potent allegory and subtextual thematics like he had done with FIGHT CLUB or SE7EN (1995).

The film is expertly constructed in a way that only Fincher could have envisioned, with top-notch filmmaking on par with any of his best work. However, PANIC ROOMwas somewhat lost in the noise of 2002’s other releases, and thus doesn’t enjoy the same cherished status of David Fincher’s higher-profile work (despite the argument that it should).

Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) is a recently divorced single mom, looking for a new home in Manhattan for her and her young daughter, Sarah (Kristen Stewart). They are shown a beautiful, expansive brownstone complete with cathedral ceilings, original crown molding, and a panic room—a hidden concrete room outfitted with survival and communications tech and designed as a refuge in the event of a home invasion.

Despite Meg’s misgivings that the property is simply too much house for the two of them, she buys it anyway. As Meg and Sarah sleep during their first night in the house, three burglars—Junior (Jared Leto), Burnham (Forest Whitaker), and Raoul (Dwight Yoakam) break inside.

Meg and Sarah are awakened by the commotion, and instinctually barricade themselves in the panic room. Any assurance of safety soon vanishes when Meg realizes that she never hooked up the panic room’s dedicated phone line, along with the revelation that what the burglars are after—millions of dollars in US bonds—is hidden in a floor safe underneath their feet.

What ensues is a suspenseful, contained thriller that would make Hitchcock green with envy as Meg and Sarah fend off this trio of unpredictable male intruders who will stop at nothing to get what they want.

Jodie Foster is compelling as lead heroine Meg Altman, a fiercely maternal woman whose initial mild-mannered-ness gives way to a resourceful, cunning bravery. Interestingly, Foster replaced original actress Nicole Kidman, who had to leave the production due to the aggravation of an earlier injury (she still has a voice cameo as Meg’s ex-husband’s new girlfriend).

Despite the short notice, Foster exhibited enormous dedication to the role by giving up her chair on the Cannes Film Festival Jury as well as working through the pregnancy of her second child. Kristen Stewart, who was only eleven at the time of filming, turns in a great performance as Sarah, Meg’s punk-y daughter with a cynical attitude and intelligence beyond her years.

Stewart provides a nice balance to Meg’s refined femininity with a rough, tomboyish and androgynous quality (something which Foster had herself at Stewart’s age). In making the character of Sarah a diabetic, Stewart is able to become an active participant in the suspense and engage us on a personal, visceral level.

The three burglars prove just as compelling as our female protagonists due to a complex combination of values and virtues that causes conflict between them. The most accessible of the three is Forest Whitaker as Burnam, a professional builder of panic rooms and a sensitive, honorable man who projects a warm, authoritative presence.

This complex physicality is essential to the success of the role, and Fincher’s choice of Whitaker, who he previously knew not as an actor but as a fellow director at Propaganda Films, is an inspired one. Burnham is compelled not by greed but by obligation to his family, meaning that while he’s misguided in his attempts to right his wrongs, he’s not beyond saving.

His antithesis is Raoul, a mysterious, volatile man who quickly asserts himself as the group’s dangerous wild card. Raoul is played by Dwight Yoakam, a country singer turned actor who injects a great deal of menace to the proceedings.

Jared Leto, who previously appeared in David Fincher’s FIGHT CLUB in a small role, benefits from the expanded screen presence that the character of Junior affords him. Junior is the self-designated leader of the operation, but he quickly finds control of the situation slipping from his grasp as the night unfolds.

Leto finds an inspired angle into what would otherwise be the stock hotheaded, impatient villain archetype by turning Junior into a trust-fund kid who’s ill-advised attempts at giving himself some edge (take those atrocious dreadlocks, for instance) only lead to the hardened criminals he’s trying to impress taking him less seriously.

PANIC ROOM, like all of Fincher’s pre-ZODIAC (2007) feature work, was filmed in the Super 35mm film format. While shot open-matte in the full-frame Academy aspect ratio, the finished film is presented on the widescreen 2.40:1 aspect ratio so that David Fincher had total freedom to compose the frame as he saw fit. He did it this way, as opposed to shooting in the anamorphic aspect ratio, because he apparently hates the limited lens choices and shallow depth of field that plagues the anamorphic process.

Fincher hired Darius Khondji, who had previously shot SE7EN, but Khondji left the production two weeks into the shoot due to creative differences with David Fincher’s meticulously planned and extensively pre-visualized approach (which stifled any on-set spontaneity). Cinematography duties were then passed on to Conrad W. Hall (not to be confused with his father, the legendary Conrad Hall who shot ROAD TO PERDITION (2002) and COOL HAND LUKE (1967)).

Hall Junior proves adept at replicating Fincher’s signature aesthetic via a high-contrast lighting scheme and a cold color palette whereby traditionally warm incandescent bulbs glow a pale yellow and the harsh fluorescents of the panic room take on a blue/teal cast. Fincher’s mise-en-scene is dotted with practical lights, creating an underexposed, moody image that is bolstered by a “no light” approach—meaning that David Fincher and Hall sought as much darkness as they could get away with, primarily using the extremely soft light afforded by kino-flo rigs.

A highlight of PANIC ROOM’s look is a constant, fluid, and precise camera that glides and floats through the house, as if unfettered by the limitations of human operation. This technique is achieved through the combination of the Technocrane and CGI that stitches multiple shots into one, seamless move.

The best example of this in the film is the virtuoso long take that occurs as the burglars break into the house. We first see them arrive, and swoop through the house as they try various entry points, all the while taking the time to show us Meg and Sarah asleep and unaware of the impending danger.

This shot would have been impossible to achieve before the rise of digital effects, a revolution that Fincher helped usher in due to his familiarity with the process from his days at ILM.

Because of his natural grasp on digital filmmaking tech, he is able to turn this incredibly complicated shot into a “thesis” money shot that condenses his entire visual approach to the film into a single moment while effortlessly establishing the geography of the house and orienting us for what’s to come.

As I mentioned before, the extensive location shoots and setups required by FIGHT CLUB resulted in Fincher desiring a singular, contained scenario for his next project. In developing PANIC ROOM, he realized he wanted to create the entire house as a studio set (a la Alfred Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW (1954) so that he could exert complete control.

Toward that end, he hired SE7EN’s production designer, Arthur Max, to construct the full-featured house inside a large soundstage as one continuous structure whose walls could be flown out to accommodate a camera gliding through the set.

Max’s work here is nothing less than masterful, as nary a seam of the complicated construction exposes itself throughout the entire film. The same could be said of the fluid edit by Fincher’s regular editor James Haygood, working in collaboration with Angus Wall.

Wall had previously edited bits and pieces of David Fincher’s commercial work, as well as the opening credits to SE7EN, but PANIC ROOM is Wall’s first feature editing job for David Fincher, and his success here has to led to continued employment in Fincher’s later features.

After a brief hiatus taken during the production of FIGHT CLUB, composer Howard Shore returns to David Fincher’s fold with a brassy, old-school score that oozes intrigue and foreboding.

During this time, Shore was consumed with scoring duties for Peter Jackson’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, so PANIC ROOM was an assignment taken on precisely because of its low musical demands.

As it turns out, Shore’s work in PANIC ROOM is generally regarded as some of his best and most brooding. The score is complemented by a superb sound mix by David Fincher’s regular sound designer, Ren Klyce.

When done right, genre is a potent conduit for complex ideas and allegory with real-world implications. PANIC ROOM is essentially about two women fending off three male home invaders, but it is also about much more: the surveillance state, income equality, the switching of the parent-child dynamic…. the list goes on.

A visionary director like David Fincher is able to take a seemingly generic home invasion thriller and turn it into an exploration of themes and ideas. For instance, PANIC ROOMaffords Fincher the opportunity to indulge in his love for architecture, letting him essentially design and build an entire house from scratch.

The type of architecture that the house employs is also telling, adopting the handsome wood and crown molding of traditional brownstone houses found on the East Coast.

Architecture also serves an important narrative purpose, with the story incorporating building guts like air vents and telephone lines as dramatic hinging points that obstruct our heroes’ progress and build suspense.

Again, David Fincher employs low angle compositions to reveal the set ceiling in a bid to communicate the location’s “real-ness” as well as instill a sense of claustrophobia.

Fincher’s fascination with tech is woven directly into the storyline, which allows him to explore the dramatic potential of a concrete room with a laser-activated door and surveillance cameras/monitors.

The twist, however, is that despite all this cutting-edge technology (circa 2002, provided), both the protagonists and the antagonists have to resort to lo-fi means to advance their cause. Another aesthetic conceit that David Fincher had been playing with during this period is the idea of micro-sized objects sized up to a macro scale.

In FIGHT CLUB, this could be seen with the shot of the camera pulling back out of a trashcan, its contents seemingly as large as planets.

Fincher echoes this conceit in PANIC ROOM via zooming in on crumbling concrete until it’s as big as a mountain, diving through the gas hose as the burglars pump propane gas into the panic room, and jumping inside the glass enclosure of a flashlight to see a close up of the bulb spark on and off.

David Fincher ties this visual idea in with another signature of his films—imaginative opening credits sequences.  With PANIC ROOM, he places his collaborators’ names against the steel and glass canyons of New York City, as if the letters themselves were as big as skyscrapers and had always been a part of their respective structures.

As interesting of an idea it is, I’m not sure the large scope that these credits imply fully gels with a movie that’s so self-contained and insular.  And finally, the punk/nihilistic flair that hangs over David Fincher’s filmography has a small presence in Kristen Stewart’s androgynous punk stylings, as well as the appearance of The Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious on one of her t-shirts.

Fincher’s desire to exert total control of the shoot via meticulous set-building and extensive computer pre-visualization ended up working against him, making for a long, strenuous shoot bogged down by technical difficulties and slow advancement.

However, the effort was worth it—PANIC ROOM became a box office hit upon its release, receiving generally positive reviews.  As a lean, mean thriller, PANIC ROOM is incredibly exhilarating and well-made; perhaps even one of the best home invasion films ever made.

More importantly, PANIC ROOM would be the last feature that David Fincher ever shot on celluloid film (as of this writing).  The 2000’s would bring the swift rise of digital filmmaking, a technology that Fincher—as a noted perfectionist and control-freak—would swiftly embrace.

PANIC ROOM closes the book on the first phase of David Fincher’s feature career (marked by gritty, subversive fare shot on film), heralding the arrival of a new phase that would solidify Fincher’s legacy amongst our most prestigious filmmakers


COMMERICALS & MUSIC VIDEO (2002-2007)

After the release of director David Fincher’s fifth feature, PANIC ROOM (2002), he took a five-year hiatus from feature work. However, this doesn’t mean he was lounging poolside with margaritas for half a decade.

He was hard at work in other arenas: prepping a sprawling film adaptation of the infamous San Francisco Zodiac murders during the 70’s, as well as taking on select commercial and music video work. During this five-year period, David Fincher created some of his highest profile (and most controversial) short-form work.

Fincher’s 2002 spot for Adidas, called “MECHANICAL LEGS” is a great little bit of advertising done in the classic David Fincher visual style: high contrast lighting, steely color palette and a constantly-moving camera.

The entire piece is a digital creation, featuring a pair of disembodied robot legs exhibiting superhuman agility and speed as they test out a new pair of Adidas sneakers. Fincher’s flair for visual effects and dynamic compositions really makes the spot effective and, more importantly, memorable.


COCA-COLA: “THE ARQUETTES” (2003)

I remember this particular ad, Coca-Cola’s “THE ARQUETTES” when it came out, as it received a lot of airplay based on the popularity of the titular couple following Courtney’s successful run on FRIENDS as well as their combined appearances in Wes Craven’s SCREAM films.

Of course, I had no idea David Fincher was behind the spot when I first saw it, but having grown accustomed to his aesthetic, I can easily spot it now. It’s evident in the desaturated warm tones that favor slightly colder yellows instead of typical oranges, as well as the high contrast lighting. The spot’s tagline, “True Love”, is poetically tragic now after the couple’s divorce in 2011.


XELEBRI: “BEAUTY FOR SALE” (2004)

In 2004, Fincher was commissioned by Xelebri to realize a stunning concept in the spot for “BEAUTY FOR SALE”. The piece takes place in a futuristic world, filled with the imaginative production design and world-building Fincher is known for, and bolstered by the visually arresting conceit of normal people wearing supermodel bodies as costumes (achieved through clever CGI and other visual effects). A cold color palette and high contrast lighting wraps everything up into a neat little David Fincher package.


HEINEKEN: “BEER RUN” (2005)

Fincher’s spot for Heineken called “BEER RUN” is also a commercial that I remember quite well from its initial run, primarily due to the fact that it was a big, lavish Super Bowl ad. The piece stars Fincher’s regular feature collaborator Brad Pitt as himself, adventurously trekking out into the urban night for a case of Heineken while avoiding the hordes of paparazzi.

Visually, a green/yellow color cast is applied over the image which accentuates the high contrast lighting and evokes not only the color branding of Heineken itself, but David Fincher’s FIGHT CLUB (1999). Dynamic camera movement and the inclusion of The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” over the soundtrack further point to Fincher’s confident vision.


NINE INCH NAILS: “ONLY” (2005)

Fincher’s only music video during this period was created for Nine Inch Nails’ single “ONLY”. Fincher had already been associated with NIN frontman Trent Reznor due to the inclusion of a remix of Reznor’s “Closer” in the opening credits toSE7EN (1995), but this is the first instance of the two men working together directly. This is notable because Reznor would go on to become a regular composer for David Fincher, beginning with 2010’s THE SOCIAL NETWORK and continuing to the present day.

Interestingly, the video is presented in the square 4:3 aspect ratio, but the look is classic Fincher: high contrast lighting, a steely/sterile grey color palette and a constantly-moving camera that gives the simple concept a dose of electric energy.

The concept serves Fincher’s fascination for tech, with a Mac laptop acting as the centerpiece to this 21st century orchestra. CGI is used to inspired effect in incorporating sound waves on the surface of coffee, as well as conveying Reznor’s face and performance via those needle-art slabs that were popular during the era.


MOTOROLA: “PEBL” (2006)

In 2006, David Fincher reteamed with his cinematographer on THE GAME (1997), the late Harris Savides, to shoot a commercial for Motorola called “PEBL”. The spot tracks the long, slow erosion of a rock until it becomes so smooth that is adopts the form factor of Motorola’s Pebl mobile phone.

Fincher uses CGI in the form of meteors, craters, and weather to portray eons of time in only sixty seconds. This spot was filmed with digital cameras, and is credited with giving Fincher and Savides to adopt the format for the production of their next feature collaboration, 2007’s ZODIAC.


ORVILLE REDENBACHERS: “REANIMATED” (2007)

A commercial recently started airing that digitally recreates the late Audrey Hepburn, and understandably caused a lot of furor. There’s a huge ethical debate about using CGI advancements to bring long-dead celebrities back to life, a debate that more or less began in 2007 when David Fincher and Orville Redenbachers had the audacity to bring Orville himself back from the dead to hawk some popcorn.

I understand advancing the technology so that it can be used for necessary purposes (i.e, finishing the performance of an actor who died during production like Paul Walker), but the final effect is never truly convincing. It’s mildly upsetting at best, and pants-shitting horrifying at worst.

Here, Fincher’s familiarity with effects works against him, with his excitement at bringing dear old Orville back from the dead perhaps blinding him to the resulting “uncanny valley” effect. “REANIMATED”is easily one of Fincher’s most controversial videos, and for good reason.


LEXUS: “POLLEN” (2007)

Another spot that’s heavily-reliant on CGI, Lexus’ “POLLEN” is set inside of a greenhouse that was created entirely in the digital realm. Here, David Fincher is able to exact total control over his image and dial in a high contrast, steely color palette that highlights the car’s streamlined design.

The main takeaway from this period of Fincher’s career is his experimentation with digital cameras and acquisition would result in his overall confidence in the format and its future. Once he shot the majority of ZODIAC on digital, his film days were basically over.

His early adoption transformed him into the poster boy for the cinematic potential of the nascent digital format on a large, blockbuster scale.


ZODIAC (2007)

I’ve written before in my essays on Paul Thomas Anderson and The Coen Brothers about how 2007 was a watershed year in modern cinema. That specific year saw the release of three films that are widely considered to be the best films of the decade, the apex of efforts by specialty studio shingles like Paramount Vantage and Warner Independent.

Mid-level divisions like these flourished during the Aughts, with studios putting up considerable financial backing into artistic efforts by bold voices in an attempt to capture the lucrative windfall that came with awards season prestige.

It was a great time to be a cinephile, but it was also ultimately an unsustainable bubble—a bubble that would violently pop the following year when these shingles shuttered their doors and studios turned their attention to blockbuster properties and mega-franchises (ugh) like the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

As an eager student in film school, 2007 was a very formative year for me personally. It was the year that Anderson’s THERE WILL Be BLOOD and The Coens’ NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN were released, but those films are not the focus of this article. This particular essay concerns the third film in the trifecta, David Fincher’s masterful ZODIAC.

When the film was released, I was already a David Fincher acolyte and had been awaiting his return to the big screen five years after PANIC ROOM. As I took in my first screening of ZODIAC on that warm, Boston spring afternoon, I became acutely aware that I was watching a contender for the best film of the decade.

ZODIAC’s journey to the screen was a long, arduous one—much like the real-life investigation itself. The breakthrough came when writer James Vanderbilt based his take off of Robert Graysmith’s book of the same name.

From Graysmith’s template, Vanderbilt fashioned a huge tome of a screenplay that was then sent to director David Fincher—helmer of the serial-killer-genre-defining SE7EN (1995)—basically out of respect.

Fully expecting Fincher to pass, Vanderbilt and the project’s producers were quite surprised to learn of the director’s interest and connection to the material— but Fincher himself wasn’t surprised in the least. He remembered his childhood in the Bay Area, where Zodiac’s unfolding reign of terror was the subject of adults’ hushed whispers and his own captivated imagination.

In an oblique way, ZODIAC is an autobiographical and sentimental film for David Fincher—a paean to an older, more idyllic San Francisco whose innocence was shattered by the Zodiac murders and ultimately lost to the negative economic byproducts of rampant gentrification.

[thrive_leads id=’8866′]

ZODIAC spans three decades of San Francisco history, beginning in 1969 and ending in 1991. The focusing prism of this portrait is the sense of paranoia and panic that enveloped the city during the reign of terror perpetrated by a mysterious serial killer known only as The Zodiac. Simply murdering people at random is a scary enough prospect to shake any city to its foundations, but Zodiac’s command of the media via chilling correspondence sent to newspaper editors and TV stations allowed him to disseminate his message and strike mortal fear into the heart of the entire state of California.

At the San Francisco Chronicle, crime reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr) takes up the Zodiac beat and finds an unlikely ally and partner in plucky cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), whose familiarity with pictorial language and messages aids in the endeavor to decode the Zodiac’s cryptic hieroglyphics.

Meanwhile, Inspector Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) is breathlessly canvassing the populace and questioning hundreds upon hundreds of suspects in an effort to crack the Zodiac case, only to find frustration and confusion at every turn.

As the months turn to years, Zodiac’s body count continues to rise—until one day, it stops entirely. Time passes, nobody hears from the Zodiac for several years and the city moves on (including the increasingly alcoholic Avery).

That is, with the exception of Graysmith and Toschi, whose nagging obsession continues to consume them whole. With each passing year, their prospects of solving the case drastically decreases, which only amplifies their urgency in bringing The Zodiac to justice before he slips away entirely.

What sets ZODIAC apart from other serial-killer thrillers of its ilk is its dogged attention to detail. Fincher and Vanderbilt built their story using only the facts—eyewitness testimony, authentic police documentation and forensics evidence.

For instance, the film doesn’t depict any murder sequence in which there weren’t any survivors to provide accurate details about what went down. Another differentiating aspect about the film is the passage of time as a major theme, conveyed not only via on-screen “x months/years later” subtitles but also with inspired vignettes like a changing cityscape and music radio montages over a black screen.

ZODIAC’s focus lies in the maddening contradiction of factual accounts that stymied real-life investigators and led to missed clues and dead-end leads. The true identity of The Zodiac was never solved, and the film goes to painstaking lengths to show us exactly why that was the outcome.

ZODIAC attempts to deconstruct the larger-than-life myth of its namesake, but it also can’t help exaggerating him in our own cultural consciousness as the serial killer who got away—a modern boogeyman like Jason or Freddy that transcends the constraints of time and could pop up again at any time to resume his bloody campaign.

ZODIAC centers itself around a triptych of leads in Gyllenhaal, Downey and Ruffalo. The author of the film’s source text, Robert Graysmith, is depicted by Gyllenhaal as a goody-two-shoes boy scout and single father who throws himself into a downward spiral of obsession.

His sweet-natured pluckiness is the antithesis of the hard-boiled, cynical detective archetype we’ve come to expect from these types of films. Downey, per usual, steals every scene he’s in as the flamboyant, acid-witted Paul Avery. Ruffalo more than holds his own as the detail-oriented police inspector in a bowtie, David Toschi (whose actions during the Zodiac case inspired the character of Dirty Harry).

These three unconventional leads ooze period authenticity and help to immerse the audience into the story for the entirety of its marathon three hour running time.

By this point, Fincher had built up such an esteemed reputation for himself that he could probably cast any actor he desired. With ZODIAC’s supporting cast, Fincher has assembled a, unexpected and truly eclectic mix of fine character actors. John Carroll Lynch plays Arthur Lee Allen, the prime suspect in Toschi and Graysmith’s investigation.

Lynch assumes an inherently creepy demeanor that, at the same time, is not overtly threatening. Lynch understands that he has a huge obligation in playing Allen responsibly, since the storyline effectively convicts him as the Zodiac killer posthumously (when it may very well be not true at all).

When the Zodiac killer is seen on-screen, you’ll notice that it’s not Lynch playing the role. David Fincher wisely uses a different actor for each on-screen Zodiac appearance as a way to further cloud the killer’s true identity and abstain from implicating Allen further than the storyline already does. Additionally, this echoes actual survivor testimonies, which were riddle with conflicting and mismatching appearance descriptions.

Indie queen Chloe Sevigny plays the nerdy, meek character of Melanie. As the years pass in the film, she becomes Graysmith’s second wife and grows increasingly alienated by his obsession. She possesses a quiet strength that’s never overbearing and never indulgent.

Brian Cox plays San Francisco television personality Melvin Belli as something of a dandy and honored member of the literati. His depiction of a well-known local celebrity oozes confidence and gravitas. Elias Koteas plays Sergeant Mulanax, an embattled Vallejo police chief, while Dermot Mulroney plays Toschi’s own chief, Captain Marty Lee.

PT Anderson company regular Phillip Baker Hall appears as Sherwood Morrill, an esteemed handwriting analyst whose expertise is thrown into question as he succumbs to an escalating alcohol problem. Comedian Adam Goldberg appears in a small role as Duffy Jennings, Avery’s sarcastic replacement at The Chronicle, and eagle-eyed Fincher fanatics will also spot the presence of Zach Grenier, who played Edward Norton’s boss in FIGHT CLUB (1999).

ZODIAC is a very important film within Fincher’s filmography in that it marks a drastic shift in his style, ushering in a second act of creative reinvigoration fueled by the rise of digital filmmaking cameras and tools that could match celluloid pixel for crystal.

Fincher’s early adoption became a tastemaker’s vote of confidence in a fledgling technology and substantially bolstered the rate of adoption by other filmmakers.

Having shot several of his previous commercials on digital with THE GAME’s cinematographer Harris Savides, David Fincher was confident enough that digital cameras could meet the rigorous demands of his vision for ZODIAC and subsequently enlisted Savides’ experience as insurance towards that end.

Shooting on the Thomson Viper Filmstream camera in 1080p and presenting in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio, Fincher is able to successfully replicate his signature aesthetic while substantially building on it with the new tools afforded to him by digital.

Because of digital’s extraordinary low-light sensitivity, Fincher and Savides confidently underexpose their image with high contrast, shadowy lighting—many times using just the available practical lights, which resulted in moody, cavernous interior sequences and bright, idyllic exteriors. Fincher also is able to create something of a mundane, workaday look that stays within his established color space of yellow warm tones and blue/teal cold casts.

The procedural, methodical nature of the story is echoed in the observational, objective camera movement and editing. David Fincher’s dolly and technocrane work is deliberate and precise, as is every cut by Angus Wall in his first solo editing gig for Fincher having co-edited several of his previous features.

Wall’s work was certainly cut out for him, judging by Fincher’s well-documented insistence on doing as many takes as required in order to get the performance he wanted (it’s not uncommon in a David Fincher film for the number of takes to reach into the 50’s or 60’s).

To my eyes, ZODIAC is quite simply one of the most realistic and authentic-looking period films I’ve ever seen, owing credit to Donald Graham Burt’s meticulous production design. Burt and Fincher aren’t after a stylized, exaggerated vintage look like PT Anderson’s BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997), but rather a lived-in, well-worn, and low-key aesthetic.

Absolutely nothing feels out of place or time. Fincher’s borderline-obsessive attention to historical detail extended as far as flying in trees via helicopter in one instance to make the Lake Berryessa locale look just as it did at the time.

Practical solutions like this were augmented by clever, well-hidden CGI and digital matte paintings that never call attention to themselves. Funnily enough for a film so predicated upon its historical authenticity, David Fincher also acknowledges a surprising amount of artistic license taken with the film’s story— compiling composites of characters and re-imagining real-life events in a bid for a streamlined, clean narrative.

In developing the film, Fincher initially didn’t want to use a traditional score, instead preferring to incorporate a rich tapestry of popular period songs, radio commercials, and other audio recordings.

Toward that end, he used several different styles of music to reflect the changing decades, such as jazz, R&B and psychedelic folk rock like Donavan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man”, which takes on a pitch-black foreboding feel when it plays over the film’s brilliantly-staged opening murder sequence.

Once the film was well into its editing, Fincher’s regular sound designer Ren Klyce suggested that the film could really use some score during key moments.

David Fincher agreed, and reached out to David Shire—the composer of Alan J. Pakula’s ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (1976), a film that served as ZODIAC’s tonal influence.

Shire’s score is spare, utilizing mainly piano chords to create a brooding suite of cues that echoes the oblique danger and consuming obsession that the story deals in.

The story of ZODIAC is perfectly suited to Fincher’s particular thematic fascinations. Architecture plays a big role, with Fincher depicting San Francisco as a city in transition. He shows cranes on the skyline, holes in the ground waiting to be filled, and most famously, an impressionistic timelapse of the TransAmerica tower’s construction.

This approach extends to his interiors, specifically the Chronicle offices, which slowly transform over the years from a beige bullpen of clacking typewriters and cathedral ceilings to a brighter workspace with low-slung tile ceilings and fluorescent light fixtures (as seen in the well-composed low angle shots that pepper the film).

Nihilism— another key recurring theme throughout David Fincher’s work— pervades the storyline and the actions of its characters. Because they’re unable to solve the mystery and tie things up with a neat Hollywood ending, they either fall into an existential crisis about all their wasted efforts, or they simply lose interest and move on.

Fincher’s exploration of film’s inherent artifice is present here in very meta stylings: film canisters and their contents become promising leads and clues, and the characters get to watch movies about themselves on the screen (Fincher makes a big show of Toschi attending the Dirty Harry premiere). ZODIAC’s unique tone and subtext is perfectly indicative of David Fincher’s sensibilities as an artist, and frankly, it’s impossible to imagine this story as made by someone else.

ZODIAC bowed at the Cannes Film Festival to great views, its praise echoed by a cabal of prominent critics stateside. They hailed it as a masterpiece and Fincher’s first truly mature work as a filmmaker—the implication being that the maverick director was ready to join the Oscar pantheon of Great Filmmakers.

The critics’ high praise hasn’t eroded since either; it consistently ranks as one of the best films of the decade, if certainly not the most underrated. I wish the same could be said of the box office take of its original theatrical run, which was so poor that it only made back its budget when worldwide grosses were accounted for.

Thankfully, the release of Fincher’s director’s cut on home video managed to bring the film a great deal of respect and attention. As a reflection of David Fincher’s strict adherence to facts and eyewitness testimony in making the case for Arthur Lee Allen as the Zodiac, the long-dormant case was actually re-opened by Bay Area authorities for further investigation. When the pieces are put all together, the evidence clearly points to ZODIAC as Fincher’s grandest achievement yet.


THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (2008)

With some films, there’s an intense connection that you can’t fully explain. It resonates deep inside of you, in that cloud of unconsciousness. At the risk of sounding a little hippy-dippy, director David Fincher’s THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (2008) is one such film for me. It feels like a life that I’ve already lived before, despite the fact that I’ve never been to the South and I was born too late in the twentieth century to remember most of it.

Yet, there’s something about the film’s eroded-paint interiors in particular that reminds me of a distinct time in my life, a time when I was re-discovering my hometown of Portland, Oregon with new eyes during summer breaks from college.

I only realized it after my most recent viewing, but the film also sublimely foreshadows major developments in my own life: The treasured tugboat upon which Benjamin Button spends a great deal of his early adult years is named The Chelsea (coincidentally the name of my fiancée), and the love of his life is an elegant dancer (again, the soon-to-be Mrs.).

I can’t make it through the film without tearing up a little bit (or a lot), especially during the last montage where David Fincher shows us the smiling faces from Button’s life as Button himself opines in voiceover about how relationships are life’s biggest treasure. The scene utterly slays me. Every. Single. Time.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is based off the F. Scott Fitzgerald book of the same name, published in 1922. A film adaptation had been in development since the 1970’s, associated with a wide variety of big-time Hollywood names like Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, and Jack Nicholson.

Due to the storyline of a man aging in reverse, which would require 5 different actors playing Button at various stages of his life, the idea never picked up much steam. A leading role split up between five men wouldn’t appeal to any one movie star, and the studio couldn’t justify the required budget with unknowns. After a while, most executives considered it to simply be one of those great screenplays that never got made.

By the early 2000’s, executives began to realize that CGI technology had caught up with the demand for a single actor to portray Button throughout the ages. They brought FORREST GUMP scribe Eric Roth aboard to try his hand at a new draft, but the project really began generating momentum when Fincher, fresh off his success with 2002’s PANIC ROOM, became involved.

Working with Spielberg’s producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall (in addition to his own regular producer, Cean Chaffin), he developed the film simultaneously with his 2007 feature ZODIAC, which ended up going before cameras first. David Fincher’s creative steerage was instrumental in securing the participation of Brad Pitt, and with the decision to forsake the novel’s original Baltimore setting in favor of New Orleans and its generous post-Katrina tax incentives, the project was finally given the greenlight after decades of development.

Within Fincher’s filmography, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is just that—a curious case. It’s his most honored film, and certainly his most emotionally resonant and powerful. However, the film is not well-liked amongst the film community at large, let alone his devoted fanbase. It is commonly accused of maudlin sentiments, which at the time of its release were at odds with a cynical American mentality wrought by terrorism and an unpopular war abroad.

However, as the long march of time strips the film of the context of its release, its fundamental integrity increasingly reveals itself. Like its sister project ZODIAC, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON makes a strong case for one of the best films of its decade.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is bookended with a framing narrative that concerns an elderly woman named Daisy (Cate Blanchett) lying on her deathbed in a hospital while Hurricane Katrina approaches. She implores her daughter to read her a series of journal entries she’s saved in a box, all of them written by a mysterious man known only as Benjamin Button.

His story begins on the eve of World War 1’s end in New Orleans, where a baby is born with quite the defect: severely wrinkled skin and a frail condition that’s consistent with an old man at the end of his life.

The baby’s mother dies during labor, and the father, wealthy button manufacturer Thomas Button (Jason Flemyng), flees with the baby in horror, abandoning him on the back steps of a nursing home. The home’s caretaker, a fiercely maternal soul named Queenie (Taraji P. Henson) discovers the baby and takes him in as her own, giving him the name of Benjamin.

The child confounds all expectations as he continues growing up into an elderly-looking little boy, appearing better and healthier every day. Benjamin (Brad Pitt) fits right in with the residents of the creaky old nursing home, and they become something of an extended family around him. One day, Benjamin meets a precocious little girl named Daisy, who sense just how different he is, and they begin a lifelong friendship.

As the years give way to decades, Benjamin continues to age in reverse, becoming more youthful and virile as he sets out into the world on a grand adventure that places him against the backdrop of the 20th’s century historical moments.

He becomes a master sailor, battles Nazi submarines in open waters, and even experiences a secret love affair with an old married woman (Tilda Swinton) in Russia. When Benjamin returns home from his adventures, he finds Daisy has grown into a beautiful young woman as well as a successful ballet dancer in New York.

Their attraction towards each other alternates erratically, never overlapping until Daisy’s career is cut short after getting hit by a taxi in Paris. Middle age sets in, and as Daisy becomes acutely aware of her mortality, she and Benjamin finally give in to each other and start a grand romance.

When Daisy announces she’s pregnant, Benjamin becomes withdrawn emotionally—he’s reluctant about becoming a father because as the child grows, he’ll only get younger still and, as he puts it, “(she) can’t raise the both of us”.

As Benjamin’s singularly unique life plays out, the film reveals itself to ultimately be about the heartbreak of age and time. It plays like a melancholic yearning for youth, while at the same praises the experience of life and living it to the fullest with the time you have.

Brad Pitt’s third collaboration with David Fincher is also his most sophisticated. As Benjamin Button, Pitt needs to be able to convey a complex life through all its various stages and differing attitudes. The main through-line of Pitt’s performance is that of a curious innocent, who soaks in everything around him with wide-eyed glee because he was never supposed to live long enough to see it anyway. The majority of Pitt’s performance is augmented by CGI, but his characterization is consistent and his physicality is believable across the spectrum of age. Simply put, Pitt’s performance is a career-best that takes advantage of his off-kilter leading man sensibilities.

Blanchett’s Daisy is an inspired counterpart as a complex character who is both tender and cold, idealistic and practical. Like Pitt, Blanchett must convey the full spectrum of womanhood with her performance, and does so entirely convincingly (with a little help from CGI “youth-inizing” techniques and conventional makeup prosthetics).

Tilda Swinton plays Liz Abbott, Benjamin’s mistress and lover during his short residency in a grand, old Russian hotel. Swinton, like Blanchett, is capable of playing a wide variety of age ranges, and here performs beautifully as an older, sophisticated and worldly woman who introduces Benjamin to the world of caviar and secret love affairs.

As Benjamin’s adopted mother Queenie, Taraji P. Henson is a revelation. She projects a strong, resilient dignity that allows her to essentially run the show at the old folks home Benjamin lives in. Mahershala Ali, better known for his role in Fincher’sHOUSE OF CARDS series, works for the first with the director here as Tizzy, Queenie’s lover and a distinguished, mild-mannered father figure to Benjamin.

Jason Flemyng plays Benjamin’s real father, Thomas Button, as a man besieged by melancholy over how his life has turned out. He’s a rich man, but all of the money in the world couldn’t have prevented his current situation, so he keeps Benjamin at an emotional distance until its time to pass his legacy and wealth on.

And last but not least, Elias Koteas— in his second consecutive performance for Fincher following ZODIAC—plays Monsieur Gateau, a blind clockmaker. Consumed by grief after losing his son to the Great War, Gateau constructs a clock that hangs in the New Orleans train station and runs backwards—thus paralleling Benjamin Button’s own life.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON furthers David Fincher’s foray into the digital realm. Working with a new visual collaborator in cinematographer Claudio Miranda, Fincher once again utilizes the Viper Filmstream camera to establish an all-digital workflow. Indeed, not a single frame of the film was ever printed to film before the striking of release prints.

Acquisition, editing and mastering was done entirely with bits and pixels— ones and zeroes. Presented in David Fincher’s preferred 2.40:1 widescreen aspect ratio, the film is easily the director’s warmest-looking picture to date. The frame is tinged with a slight layer of sepia, while the warm tones veer towards the yellow part of the color spectrum and a cold blue/teal cast defines the current-day Katrina sequences.

The incorporation of practical lights into the frame creates a high contrast lighting scheme while making for moody, intimate interiors that evoke the old world feel of New Orleans.
Fincher’s color palette deals mainly in earth tones, which makes the presence of red (see Daisy’s dress during their first romantic date) all the more striking when it finally appears.

Red in general seldom makes an appearance in David Fincher’s work (except for blood, of course), a phenomenon that can be chalked up to Fincher’s self-avowed aversion to the color as it appears on film due to its distracting nature. However, with Daisy’s dress in particular, the costume designers were able to convince Fincher that the distraction served a legitimate story purpose.
For a director well known for his dynamic sense of camera movement, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is a surprisingly sedate affair.

While certain key moments are punctuated with dolly or Technocrane movements, for the most part David Fincher is content to let the frame stay static and allow the performances to take center stage. This approach is bolstered by returning production designer Donald Graham Burt’s exceptional period reconstructions (themselves augmented with CGI and digital matte paintings).

Fincher’s regular editor Angus Wall stitches everything together in a deliberate, meaningful fashion that eschews flash in favor of truth and emotion. Kirk Baxter joins Wall, and would go on to become part of Fincher’s core editing team himself.

For the film’s music, David Fincher collaborates with Alexandre Desplat, who creates an elegiac, nostalgic score that sounds lush and romantic. Desplat’s work stands in stark contrast to the moody, foreboding scores that Howard Shore or David Shire created for Fincher’s earlier films.

Fincher supplements Desplat’s whimsical suite of cues with several historical needledrops that fill out the period: southern ragtime, R&B crooner hits like The Platters’ “My Prayer”, and even The Beatles’ “Twist And Shout”. Above all of these, the incorporation of Scott Joplin’s Bethena waltz stands out as the most powerful and cutting of cues (in my mind, at least). The song is as Old Time Dixie as it comes, but it’s a nostalgic little tune that resonates with me on a very strange level.

I can’t hear it without tearing up a little, and I can’t figure out why besides the obvious beauty of the song. The best way I can describe it as if it’s some remnant from a previous life that only my unconscious soul recognizes—which is an odd thing to say coming from a guy who doesn’t believe in reincarnation.

For a lot of people, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON doesn’t feel like a David Fincher film, mainly because of its overall optimistic and sentimental tone that stands at stark odds with the rest of his emotionally cold, nihilistic filmography. However, the film is right in line with the trajectory of Fincher’s other thematic explorations.

While the passage of time is a key theme specific to the film’s story, it builds upon the foundation that Fincher established in ZODIAC (a story that also took place over the course of several decades). The old world New Orleans setting allows for lots of Victorian/classical architecture in the form of ornate southern mansions and municipal buildings that, as the years tick by, give way to a distinct midcentury modern feel (see the duplex where Benjamin and Daisy’s daughter is born).

And finally, despite being shot on digital, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON plays with the artificial constructs of the film medium. Flashback sequences, like the blind clockmaker scenes and a man getting struck by lightning seven times are treated to look like old silent pictures from the Edison era—jittery frames, contrast fluctuations, and heavy scratches, etc.

These filters, applied in post-production, serve to differentiate the flashbacks from the sumptuously-shot main story, but they also clue in to a curious phenomenon that has risen out of the industry’s quick shift into digital filmmaking: the treating of digital footage to look like film, which is akin to a vegetarian trying to make a soy patty taste just like the chicken he refuses to eat in the first place.

To my memory, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is one of the earliest instances of applying filmic artifacts onto a digitally “pure” image, along with Robert Rodriguez’s PLANET TERROR in 2006.

It’s a commonly held tenet that age softens even the hardest of personalities. The production of THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON saw David Fincher enter middle age and come to grips with his own mortality after the death of his father. As such, the film stands as a testament of an artist looking back on life and softening his edge without sacrificing who he is.

The film’s release in 2008 was met with modest commercial success and polarized reviews, with some deriding it as aFORREST GUMP knockoff while an equally vocal contingent hailed it as a technical triumph and a masterpiece of storytelling.

Fincher had his first real brush with the Oscars after the film’s release, with his direction receiving a nomination in addition to a nomination for Best Picture amongst a slew of actual Oscar wins for its groundbreaking visual effects work in seamlessly mapping a CG face onto a live-action body performance.

The cherry on top of the film’s success was its induction into the hallowed Criterion Collection, which—while met with scorn by Criterion fanboys for its perceived maudlin mawkishness— earned Fincher his place in the pantheon of important auteurs. It is an admittedly easy film to dismiss for cynical reasons, but THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON holds many treasures for those who choose to embrace it.

Like its unique protagonist, the film will persist through the ages precisely because of its poignant insights into the meaning of our fragile, fleeting existence on this earth.


COMMERICALS & MUSIC VIDEO (2008-2010)

The release of 2008’s THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON found director David Fincher without a follow-up project immediately in the pipeline. His search for new material would eventually lead him to Aaron Sorkin and 2010’s masterful THE SOCIAL NETWORK, but due to the fact that the story wasn’t nearly as development-intensive as his previous film, Fincher was able to squeeze in a few commercials. His most notable work from this brief period consisted of multiple spots done for Nike and Apple, both giants in their respective fields.

NIKE: “SPEED CHAIN” (2008)

One of several spots that Fincher created for Nike in 2008, “SPEED CHAIN” is simply masterful in concept and execution. It depicts the evolution of speed, starting with a snake coming out of the water, morphing into a man, a leopard, a car, and finally a speeding bullet train. The piece is presented in David Fincher’s preferred 2.40:1 aspect ratio, as well as his signature cold color palette and dynamic camera movements that are augmented by CGI.


NIKE: “FATE: LEAVE NOTHING” (2008)

“FATE: LEAVE NOTHING” is yet another exceptional piece of advertising, set to a trip-hop remix of Ennio Morricone’s score for THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (1966) as two young boys grow and develop essential football skills like agility and strength. It all culminates in a key confrontation between the two on the field as they collide with explosive force. Alongside the ever-present visual signatures, the piece is indicative of a major fascination of Fincher’s from this period in his career—the passage of time.


NIKE: “OLYMPICS FILMSTRIP” (2008)

Fincher’s third spot for Nike, “OLYMPICS FILMSTRIP” is heavy on the post-production, framing Olympians in film frames as the strips themselves run and twist through the frame. Shot by THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON’s cinematographer Claudio Miranda in David Fincher’s characteristic steely color palette, the piece also falls in nicely with Fincher’s continued exploration of the film frame’s boundaries and the mechanics of film itself as an artificial imaging medium.


STAND UP 2 CANCER: “PSA” (2008)

Stand Up 2 Cancer’s “PSA” spot features several vignettes in which celebrities (and scores of regular people too) stand up and face the camera—an admittedly literal concept. Several of Fincher’s previous feature collaborators make an appearance here: Tilda Swinton, Morgan Freeman, Elle Fanning, and Jodie Foster. Others, like Susan Sarandon, Keanu Reeves, Casey Affleck, and Tobey Maguire also pop up.


SOFTBANK: “INTERNET MACHINE” (2008)

David Fincher’s “INTERNET MACHINE” is a spot for a foreign cell phone company that, to my knowledge, never aired stateside. It’s a strange piece, and so dark that we almost can’t see what’s going on at all. Cast in a heavy, David Fincher-esque green color tint, Brad Pitt walks down the street and casually talking on his phone— all while CGI cars are blown away by apocalyptic winds behind him.


APPLE: “IPHONE 3G” (2009)

In 2009, Fincher did two spots for Apple’s iPhone line of products. The first, “IPHONE 3G” teases the secrecy that usually surrounds the release of a new iPhone by depicting the complicated security process of accessing the prototype stored within Apple’s laboratories.

The sleek, high contrast and steely look is characteristic of Fincher, but fits in quite sublimely with Apple’s own branding. The colorless set is full of various security tech and looks like something out of a Stanley Kubrick movie, which is fitting for a director whose work is profoundly influenced by him.


APPLE: “BREAK IN” (2009)

“BREAK IN” advertises the imminent release of the 3G’s successor, the iPhone 3GS. This spot echoes the look of “IPHONE 3G” with a similar steely color palette and Kubrick-style set piece, but this time around David Fincher has a little more fun with the storyline and technology on display.


LEXUS: “CUSTOM CAR” (2009)

“CUSTOM CAR”, done for Lexus, is simple in concept and execution, featuring Fincher’s steely, cold, urban aesthetic and fascination with mankind’s relationship to technology—seen here via the convenience of custom car settings that help identify ownership in the absence of visual differentiation.

The piece isn’t available to embed as far as I can tell.


NIKE: “TRAIL OF DESTRUCTION” (2009)

Fincher’s 2009 spot for Nike, “TRAIL OF DESTRUCTION” is incredibly artful in its high contrast, black and white approach. It might be one of the most expressionistic depictions of football I’ve ever seen.

David Fincher’s characteristic use of CGI as a storytelling tool (not just for visual flash) can be seen at the end, where the football player/protagonist retires to the locker room and exhibits a lizard-like skin pattern of scales.


NIKE: “GAMEBREAKERS” (2010)

“GAMEBREAKERS” is all computer-generated, and as such it hasn’t aged as well. It looks more like an old videogame, but perhaps that was the intent. Fincher once again works with cinematographer Claudio Miranda, who shot live-action face elements that were then mapped onto CG bodies. The idea is similar to the tech employed for THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, but reversed and applied to a dynamic action sequence.


THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010)

Facebook is easily the biggest, most transformative development of the early twenty-first century. It completely revolutionized how we communicate with each other, how we keep in touch with old friends and family, and even how we use the Internet on a fundamental level. It single-handedly ushered in the era of “Web 2.0” that experts spent most of the 90’s predicting and theorizing about.

The fact that Facebook was born in the dorm room of some Harvard kid meant we had entered a brave, new digital age. We were now in a world that benefitted the young and the savvy, the likes of who didn’t wait to “pay their dues” or obtain a blessing from the old guard before going about casually changing the world.

At the end of the day, however, Facebook is a tool. A product. A collection of ones and zeroes organized just so and projected onto our monitors. So, when it was announced that THE WEST WING creator Aaron Sorkin had written a screenplay based off “The Accidental Billionaires”, Ben Mezrich’s book on Facebook’s turbulent founding, the question on everyone’s minds (as well as the film’s own marketing materials) was: “how could they ever make a movie out of Facebook?”

As Mezrich’s book revealed (and Sorkin’s screenplay built upon), the inside story of Facebook’s genesis was fraught with a level of drama, intrigue, and betrayal normally reserved for Shakespeare.

Sorkin’s script, THE SOCIAL NETWORK, was a high-profile project from day one. It attracted the efforts of top producers like Scott Rudin, in addition to well-known personalities like Kevin Spacey, who signed on to executive produce the film. Directing duties were eventually handed to David Fincher—- the right decision, given that literally nobody else could’ve made this film as masterfully as he has done here.

When THE SOCIAL NETWORK debuted in October of 2010, it enjoyed very healthy box office receipts, mostly due to the name recognition of Facebook as well as a collective curiosity about its eccentric founder, Mark Zuckerberg. Others—like me—simply came to worship at the altar of David Fincher, subject matter be damned.

Because life is unfair, THE SOCIAL NETWORK came close to Oscar glory but was ultimately robbed by some movie about a cussing monarch or whatever that nobody will remember in ten years. There’s a strong case to be made that THE SOCIAL NETWORK is the best film in Fincher’s entire body of work, but that’s a hard case to argue considering the strength of the rest of his filmography.

One thing is for certain: we hadn’t even completed the first year of the Teens before David Fincher had given us a strong contender for the best film of the new decade. THE SOCIAL NETWORK uses Zuckerberg’s deposition hearings as framing devices, allowing for the bulk to story to occur as flashback while the “present-day” sequences orient us in time and space and help keep us on the same page as the characters.

We see Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) under fire from two fronts—Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer and Josh Pence) are suing him because they believe Facebook was an original idea of theirs that Zuckerberg stole, while Zuckerberg’s former best friend and Facebook CFO is suing him because he cheated him out of millions of dollars that were rightfully his. Fincher then transports us to Cambridge, Massachusetts during the mid-2000’s where Zuckerberg was an undergrad at Harvard.

When his girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) dumps him for being a cold, cynical little twerp, Zuckerberg goes home and creates Facemash—a website that compares randomly-generated portraits of female students. The ensuing traffic crashes Harvard’s computer network and gains him a large degree of notoriety among the student body as well as disciplinary action from Harvard’s board.

Word of his antics reach the Winklevoss twins (henceforth known as the Winklevii), who hire him to realize their idea of a Harvard-exclusive social networking site called Harvard Connect while dangling the vague possibility of an invitation to their prestigious Final Club in front of him like a carrot.

But in bouncing their idea off of his friend Saverin, Zuckerberg realizes he has a much better one, disregarding his commission to build Facebook with Saverin instead. The popularity of Facebook explodes around the campus, turning Zuckerberg and Saverin into local celebrities. It’s not long until the site expands its user base to other Ivy League schools as well as Stanford, located right in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Understandably, the Winklevii finds themselves humiliated and infuriated by Zuckerberg’s deceit, and so begin building a nasty lawsuit against him.

Having left Boston for the warmer climes of Palo Alto for the summer, Zuckerberg and Saverin hustle to find more capital for their successful little business, eventually starting a partnership with Napster founder Sean Parker, who helps set them up with meetings with big-time investors as well as some primo office space.

As Facebook is launched into the stratosphere, Zuckerberg finds himself accumulating enemies faster than friends. Much is made in the film about the inherent irony of the creator behind the world’s most successful social networking endeavor losing all of his friends in the process.

This idea is most potent in the major conflict between Zuckerberg and a scorned, exiled Saverin who rages back with venomous litigation after he’s deceived out of hundreds of millions of dollars in potential earnings.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK would live or die on the strengths of its performances, a notion that the technically-minded Fincher recognized and applied to his strategy by putting an unusual amount of focus (for him) on the performances.

Beginning with a generous three weeks of rehearsal time prior to the shoot, and following through with consistently demanding obscene numbers of takes (the opening scene had 99 takes alone), David Fincher led his cast into delivering searing, career-best performances.

The lion’s share of the attention and the film’s only acting nomination at the Oscars went to Jesse Eisenberg’s pitch-perfect performance as Mark Zuckerberg, or rather, the fictional version of the real-life Facebook founder that Sorkin had created. Eisenberg portrays Zuckerberg as a cold genius with sarcastic, antisocial tendencies. He is regularly absent from the present—his mind is elsewhere, preoccupied by his duties back at the office.

At the same time, he can be calculating and ruthless when he needs to be. As Eduardo Saverin—the initial investor and embattled ex-CFO of Facebook—Andrew Garfield delivers a breakout performance. Decent, passionate, and perhaps a little squirrely, Saverin is Zuckerberg’s closest friend and confidant; a brother. But their relationship is a Cain and Abel story, and because of his blind trust that Zuckerberg will do the right thing and look out for him, he inevitably assumes the Abel position.

Pop icon Justin Timberlake— in a performance that legitimized his status as a capable actor— plays Sean Parker, the creator of Napster and Silicon Valley’s de facto “bad boy”. Timberlake easily channels a flashy, cocky, and flamboyant physicality that’s at once both undeniably attractive to Zuckerberg and duplicitously sleazy to Saverin.

Fincher’s casting of Timberlake is quite playful, and he doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to pointing out the irony of a pop star playing a man who single-handedly transformed (some might say ruined) his industry.
Fincher’s eclectic supporting players serve as rock-solid satellites that orbit around the film’s three titanic leads. David Fincher’s series of collaborations with the Mara clan begins here with the casting of Rooney Mara as Erica Albright, Zuckerberg’s ex girlfriend. She’s patient and honest, but in a no-bullshit kind of way that’s not afraid to tell people off and put them in their place.

Mara’s character is presented as a major driving force behind Zuckerberg’s actions, with their breakup becoming the inciting event that drives him to create Facemash in the first place. Mara turns in a spectacular low-profile performance that would lead to high-profile roles in other films, not the least of which was as the lead in Fincher’s next project, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011).

Rashida Jones, better known for her work on PARKS & REC, plays the admittedly thankless role of Marilyn Delpy, an insightful young lawyer in Zuckerberg’s deposition. Her knack for comedy is well documented in her larger body of work, but in THE SOCIAL NETWORK she shows off a fantastic serious side that is consistently realistic.

Armie Hammer’s dual performance as the Winklevoss twins was yet another of the film’s many breakouts. Hammer’s portrayal of the film’s primary set of antagonists required the dashing young actor to not only change his physicality between Tyler and Cameron by mere degrees, but also to undergo the arduous process of motion-capturing his face for its later digital compositing onto the body of actor Josh Pence.

Pence, it should be noted, is the great hero of the piece, as he valiantly forfeited his own performance in service to Fincher’s vision. And last but not least, Joseph Mazzello turns up in his highest-profile role since 1993’s JURASSIC PARK as the anxious, nerdy Dustin Moskovitz— Zuckerberg’s roommate at Harvard and one of Facebook’s founding fathers.

As I’ve grown older and more entrenched in Los Angeles’ film community, I’ve found that my connections to major studio films have become increasingly personal, and my degrees of separation from the prominent directors and actors I admire decreasing exponentially. THE SOCIAL NETWORK is a personal flashpoint then, in that a lot of my friends and acquaintances are a part of the film.

I suppose this is due to the story’s dependence on talent in their early twenties, as well as just being associated with the larger Los Angeles film community at the right time. For instance, my co-producer on my 2012 feature HERE BUILD YOUR HOMES, Josh Woolf, worked on the film as a production assistant and was there during the filming of the aerial title shot with Zuckerberg running across Harvard Square (a shot we’ll address in detail later).

Additionally, an actor friend of mine who I shot a short film with in January 2014, Toby Meuli, plays one of the more-prominent Harvard students during the Facemash sequence. A member of my group of friends from University of Oregon makes a brief appearance during a Final Club party sequence in which he chugs from a bottle of liquor and hands it off to Andew Garfield standing behind him.

I even went to a party in Los Feliz in 2010 that was thrown by the young woman with a pixie cut who was featured prominently during the opening frat party sequence. And finally, Mike Bash—a very close friend of mine—was cast in a great scene that followed the Bill Gates seminar. He was originally the guy who didn’t know that it was actually Bill Gates who was speaking. The scene was initially shot in Boston, but his role was cut when David Fincher eventually decided that he didn’t like how he directed the scene.

Rather than live with what he had, David Fincher reshot the scene in LA with new actors. Naturally, Bash was pretty despondent over his exclusion from the finished product, despite my assurances that he achieved a dream that eludes the grand majority of aspiring (and successful) actors: receiving direction from David Fucking Fincher.

David Fincher’s foray into digital filmmaking soldiers on in THE SOCIAL NETWORK, but this time he swaps out the Viper Filmstream camera with its maximum resolution of 1080 pixels for the glorious 4k visuals of the Red One camera.

His FIGHT CLUB cinematographer, Jeff Cronenweth, returns to shoot THE SOCIAL NETWORK in Fincher’s preferred 2.40:1 aspect ratio, ultimately bagging a Cinematography Oscar nomination for his trouble. Fincher and Cronenweth convey an overall cold tone without relying on the obvious blue side of the color spectrum. Warmer shots are dialed in to a yellow hue, with a prominent green cast coating several shots.

David Fincher’s visual signature is immediately apparent, once again utilizing high contrast lighting and practical lamps that make for dark, cavernous interiors. In shooting the film, Fincher and Cronenweth pursued a simple, unadorned look. Combined with the digital format’s increased sensitivity to light, most lighting setups were reportedly completed in twenty minutes or less.

The camerawork is sedate and observational, containing none of the flashiness of its kindred tonal spirit, FIGHT CLUB. When the camera does move, the name of the game is precision—meaning calculated dolly moves or the motion-controlled perfection of the Technocrane. There’s only one handheld shot in the entire film, when Timberlake’s Parker drunkenly approaches a bedroom door at a house party to find police on the other side.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK marks production designer Donald Graham Burt’s third consecutive collaboration with Fincher—and third consecutive period piece. Thankfully, reconstructing the mid-2000’s isn’t as arduous a process as recreating the 70’s or large swaths of the twentieth century.

The major challenge on Burt’s part was replicating a well-known campus like Harvard in an authentic manner when the school refused to let the production film on their grounds. Shots filmed at Johns Hopkins University, as well as various locations in Los Angeles are unified in time and space by David Fincher’s editing team of Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter.

The director’s adoption of digital techniques extends well into the post-production realm, with any promise of the technology’s ability to make editing easier going right out the window because of Fincher’s preferred shooting style.

Fincher had routinely used two cameras for each setup, effectively doubling his coverage, in addition to regularly demanding dozens upon dozens of takes until he was satisfied. At the end of it all, Wall and Baxter were left with over 268 hours of raw digital footage to sift through—a momentous task made all the more complicated by David Fincher’s tendency to mix and match elements from various takes right down to individual syllables of audio to achieve the cadence of performance he desired.

The new tools that digital filmmaking affords have certainly unleashed Fincher’s control-freak tendencies, but when that same obsession results in his strongest work to date and Oscar wins for his editing team, it can hardly be called a bad thing.

One of the most immediate and striking aspects of THE SOCIAL NETWORK is its unconventional musical score, written by Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor in his first scoring job after a series of casual collaborations with Fincher (SE7EN’s opening credits and the music video for Reznor’s “ONLY”).

Partnering with Atticus Ross, Reznor has managed to create an entirely electronic sound that not only evokes his own artistic aesthetic, but also complements the film’s tone perfectly. Reznor’s Oscar-winning suite of cues is quite spooky, incorporating a haunting droning sound that unifies all the disparate elements. It almost sounds like someone dancing upon a razor’s edge.

The now-iconic main theme uses melancholy piano plunks that recall nostalgia and childhood, slowly getting softer and lost to audio buzz and droning as Zuckerberg strays from innocence. Another standout is a rearrangement of the Edvard Grieg’s classical masterpiece “In The Hall Of The Mountain King” that appears during the Henley Regatta rowing sequence, which sounds as through it were filtered through the manic, electric prism of Wendy Carlos (Stanley Kubrick’s composer for THE SHINING (1980).

Fincher’s go-to sound guy Ren Klyce layers everything into a coherent audio mix that would net him his own Oscar nomination. Klyce and David Fincher’s approach to the sonic palette of THE SOCIAL NETWORK is quite interesting, in that they don’t shy away from mixing in loud music and ambience during crowded scenes like the opening tavern sequence or the midpoint nightclub sequence.

The dialogue is almost lost amongst the loud din of activity, becoming a counterintuitive strategy to invest the audience and signal to them that they’ll really have to listen over the next two hours. Despite being a primarily talky film, the experience of watching THE SOCIAL NETWORK is anything but passive.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK takes all of Fincher’s core thematic fascinations and bottles them up into a singular experience. The director’s opening credits are always inspired, and THE SOCIAL NETWORK is no different (despite being relatively low-key).

Echoing Zuckerberg the character’s composed, plodding nature, David Fincher shows us Eisenberg running robotically through the Harvard campus late at night, which not only establishes the setting well, but also introduces us to the lead character’s relentless forward focus. Treating the text to disappear like it might on a computer screen and laying Reznor’s haunting theme over the whole thing are additional little touches that complete the package.

The title shot in this sequence, where we see Zuckerbeg run through Harvard Square from an overhead, aerial vantage point, also shows off Fincher’s inspired use of digital technology in subtle ways. The shot was achieved by placing three Red One cameras next to each other on top of a building and looking down at the action below.

This setup later allowed Fincher to stitch all three shots into one super-wide panorama of the scene that he could then pan through virtually in order to follow Zuckerberg. It’s insane. It’s genius.

Mankind’s relationship to technology has always been a major staple of David Fincher’s films, a thematic fascination influenced by his forebear Stanley Kubrick. In THE SOCIAL NETWORK, Fincher’s career-exploration of this theme comes to a head as the story’s main engine. The saga of Mark Zuckerberg is inherently about computers, the Internet, our complicated interactions with it, and its effect on our physical-world relationships.

Whereas Kubrick painted technology as dehumanizing and something to be feared, Fincher sees it as something to embrace—- something that distinctly enhances humanity and differentiates one person from the other. In David Fincher’s work, the human element tends to coalesce around the nihilistic punk subculture.

Our protagonist is inherently nihilistic and narcissistic, willing to burn whatever bridge he needs to advance his own personal cause, despite his actions not being fueled by money or power. The story hits on Fincher’s punk fascinations with Zuckerberg’s rebelliousness and devil-may-care attitude, in addition to the overt imagery of antisocial computer hackers and the inclusion of The Ramones’ “California Uber Alles”.

Finally, Fincher’s emphasis on architecture helps to evoke a sense of time and place, mixing in the old-world Harvard brownstones with the sleek modernism of the Facebook offices and deposition rooms that echoes the film’s subtext of the old guard stubbornly giving way to a new order.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK is easily David Fincher’s best-received film. When it was released, it scored high marks both in performance and critical reviews, going on to earn several Oscar nominations and even taking home gold statues for some of the big categories like Editing (Wall & Baxter) and Adapted Screenplay (Sorkin).

Ultimately, Fincher himself lost out on its deserved Best Director and Best Picture awards to THE KING’S SPEECH, but anybody could tell you which of the two films will be remembered in the decades to come. THE SOCIAL NETWORK again finds Fincher operating at the top of his game —a position he’s held since SE7EN even though he only broke through into true prestige with 2007’s ZODIAC.

It may not be an entirely accurate reflection of its true-life subject, but THE SOCIAL NETWORK is a pitch-perfect reflection of what Zuckerberg left in his wake: a society that would never be the same, fundamentally changed by a radical new prism of communication.


THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011)

The late 2000’s was a golden era for young adult fiction in both the novel and film mediums. Just look at the runaway success of the TWILIGHT series or THE HUNGER GAMES—books or films. Doesn’t matter, because they both are equally prominent within their respective mediums. Despite your personal stance on these properties (trust me, I want them gone and buried just as much as you), you can’t deny their impact on pop culture.

During this time, another book series and subsequent set movie adaptations captivated an admittedly older set—Stieg Larsson’s MILLENNIUM trilogy. Named after the muckracking news magazine that central character Mikael Blomvkist works for, the books (and movies) comprise three titles: “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”, “The Girl Who Played With Fire”, and “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest”. In 2009, the first of the Swedish film adaptations came out based on “Dragon Tattoo”, featuring newcomer Noomi Rapace in a star-making turn as the series’ cyper-punk heroine, Lisbeth Salander.

As the Swedish film trilogy proved successful both at home and abroad, it was inevitable that the major US studios would remake the property for American audiences. The task fell to Sony Pictures, who set up THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO with super-producer Scott Rudin overseeing a screenplay by esteemed writer Steve Zaillian.

Rudin’s natural choice for a director was David Fincher, who he had previously worked on the very successful THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010) with. Fincher was drawn to the story of two mismatched misfits trying to solve a decades old murder, despite his misgivings that he had become the go-to guy for serial killer films after the success of SE7EN (1995) and ZODIAC (2007).

The tipping point came in Fincher’s realization that he would be at the helm of one of the rarest projects in mainstream studio filmmaking: a hard R-rated franchise. As expected, David Fincher delivered a top-notch film with Oscar-caliber performances and effortless style. For whatever reason, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO didn’t connect with audiences, and its lackluster box office performance probably aborted any further plans for completing the trilogy.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is structured differently than most other thrillers, in that it eschews the traditional three-act design in favor of five acts. This might be perhaps why the film floundered in the United States, where audiences have been subliminally conditioned to accept the ebb and flow of three acts as acceptable narrative form.

The film’s first half tells a two-pronged story, with one thread following Mikael Blomvkist (Daniel Craig)—a disgraced journalist who has recently lost a high-profile lawsuit against wealthy industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerstrom. After taking some time off from his co-editor gig at news magazine Millennium, he is approached by Henrick Vanger (Christopher Plummer), a rival of Wennestrom’s and a wealthy industrialist in his own right. Vanger brings Blomvkist to his sprawling estate in rural Hedestat under the auspices of authoring a book of his memoirs.

However, the true purpose of Blomvkist’s employment is much more compelling—to try and solve the decades-old case of Henrick’s granddaughter Harriet, who went missing in the 1960’s and is presumed killed.

Blomvkist takes up residence in a guest cottage on the property and dutifully begins poring over the family records and taking testimony from the various relatives, some of who have shady ties to the Nazi Party in their pasts.

Meanwhile in Stockholm, a young computer expert named Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) grapples with the fallout of her foster father’s debilitating stroke. She’s forced to meet with state bureaucrats for evaluation of her mental faculties and state of preparedness for life on her own.

Her case worker—a portly, morally-bankrupt man named Yils Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen)—forces her to perform fellatio on him in exchange for rent money, his abuse eventually culminating in Salander’s brutal rape.

However, he doesn’t expect Salander’s ruthlessness and resolve, made readily apparent when she returns the favor and rapes him right back.
Blomvkist requests the help of a research assistant, and in an ironic twist, is paired with Salander—- the very person who performed the background check on him prior to Vanger’s offer of employment.

They make for an unlikely, yet inspired pairing—both professionally as well as sexually. Together, they set about cracking the case, only to discover their suspect is much closer—and much deadlier—than they could’ve imagined.

James Bond himself headlines David Fincher’s pitch-black tale, but it’s a testament to Daniel Craig’s ability that we never are actually reminded of his secret agent exploits throughout the near-three-hour running time.

Craig has been able to avoid the sort of typecasting that doomed others like Mark Hamill or Pierce Brosnan before him, simply because he refuses to let his roles define him. As disgraced journalist Mikael Blomvkist, he projects a slightly disheveled appearance (despite still being an ace fucking dresser). It may not be the most memorable role of his career but he turns in a solid, faultless performance regardless.

The true spotlight goes to Rooney Mara’s cold, antisocial hacker punk, Lisbeth Salander. Mara underwent a radical transformation for the role, even so far as getting real piercings, tattoos, dye jobs, even having her eyebrows bleached.

Considering her previous collaboration with David Fincher was as the squeaky-clean girl-next-door Erica Albright in THE SOCIAL NETWORK, Mara’s appearance in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is gut-level arresting.

The depth of Mara’s talent is evident in her unflinching confrontation with the most brutal aspects of her character arc. By giving herself over to the role entirely, she’s able to take a character that was already so well-defined by Rapace in the Swedish versions and make it completely into her own. Her Best Actress nomination at the Oscars was very much deserved.

Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, and Robin Wright round out Fincher’s compelling cast. Plummer is convincing as Henrick Vanger, depicting the retired industrialist as a good-natured yet haunted old man, as well as a bit of a dandy.

Skarsgard’s Martin Vanger is the current CEO of the family business, and his distinguished-gentleman persona cleverly hides his psychopathic, murderous inclinations. Wright plays Erika Berger, Blomvkist’s co-editor at Millennium and his on-again, off-again lover. Wright is by her nature an intelligent and savvy woman, as evidenced not just here but in her subsequent collaboration with Fincher in HOUSE OF CARDS as Kevin Spacey’s Lady MacBeth-ian spouse.
In keeping with David Fincher’s affinity for digital filmmaking technology, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO takes advantage of the Red Epic digital cameras, the next generation of the type that THE SOCIAL NETWORK was shot on.

The film is presented in Fincher’s preferred 2.40:1 aspect ratio, but again it is not true anamorphic. Besides being a reflection of David Fincher’s general distaste for the limitations of anamorphic lenses, the shooting of the image in full-frame and the later addition of a widescreen matte in postproduction is a testament to Fincher’s need for control.

This method allows him to compose the frame exactly as he wants, and the Red Epic’s ability to capture 5000 lines of resolution allows him an even greater degree of precision in zooming in on certain details, blowing up the image, or re-composing the shot without any loss in picture quality.

This technology also affords better image stabilization without any of the warping artifacts that plague the process.

Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth returns for his third collaboration with Fincher, having replaced original director of photography Fredrik Backar eight weeks into the shoot for reasons unknown.

Despite his initial position as a replacement DP, Cronenweth makes the picture his own, with his efforts rewarded by another Oscar nomination. David Fincher’s signature aesthetic is very appropriate for the wintery subject matter, his steely color palette of blues, greens and teals evoking the stark Swedish landscape— even warmer tones are dialed back to a cold yellow in Fincher’s hands.

The high contrast visuals are augmented by realistically placed practical lights that suggest cavernous interiors. Fincher’s sedate camera eschews flash in favor of locked-off, strong compositions and observant, calculated dolly work. When the camera moves, it really stands out in an affecting way.

Nowhere in the film is this more evident than in the shot where Craig’s Blomvkist is in the car approaching Vanger’s extravagant mansion for the first time. Presented from the forward-travelling POV of the car itself, the mansion grows larger in the center of frame— the symmetrical framing conceit suggesting ominous perfection.

The fact that the camera is stabilized makes for a smooth foreboding shot that takes any sort of human element out of the equation and replaces it with a fundamentally uneasy feeling. In the commentary for the film, David Fincher cites a favorite book from childhood, Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”—the sequence in which Harker approaches Dracula’s Castle serving as inspiration for his approach to this particular shot.

The connection is certainly not lost on this writer. Like several key shots in Fincher’s larger filmography, the Vanger Estate Approach (as I like to call it) would become a tastemaker shot that has not only been copied in his successive project HOUSE OF CARDS, but in subsequent pop culture works by other artists as well.

Production designer Donald Graham Burt returns for his fourth Fincher film, artfully creating an authentic sense of place in the Swedish locations while showing off his impeccable taste and eye for detail.

Editing team Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter are key collaborators within David Fincher’s filmography, and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO would become their second consecutive Oscar win for editing under the director’s eye.

Their work for THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO really utilizes the advantages that digital filmmaking has to offer in realizing David Fincher’s vision and creating a tone that’s moody but yet unlike conventional missing-person thrillers.

Angus and Wall establish a patient, plodding pace that draws the audience deeper into the mystery before they’re even aware of it, echoing Blomvkist’s own growing obsession with the case.

Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor and his music partner Atticus Ross reprise their scoring duties, giving the musical palette of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO an appropriately electronic and cold, wintery feeling.

Primarily achieved via a recurring motif of atonal bells and ambient soundscapes, the score is also supplemented by a throbbing, heartbeat-like percussion that echoes Salander’s simmering anger as well as the encroaching danger at hand.

One of Reznor’s masterstrokes is his reworking of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” for the opening credits and trailer, featuring vocals by Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O. Given a new coat of industrial electronic grunge, the rearrangement instantly conveys the tone and style of the film.

Fincher’s needledrops are few and far between in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, but one sourced music track stands out because of the sheer audaciousness of its inclusion. In the scene where Skarsgard’s Martin Vanger tortures Blomvkist in anticipation of butchering his prey, he fires up the basement’s stereo system and plays, of all songs, Enya’s Orinoco Flow.

I remember the moment getting a huge laugh in the theatre, and rightfully so—the song is just so cheesy and stereotypically Nordic that it acts as a great counterpoint to the sheer darkness of the scene’s events.

The laughter instead becomes a nervous sort of chuckle, the kind we employ to hide a certain kind of fundamental unease and anxiety. Fincher’s go-to sound guy Ren Klyce was nominated for another Oscar with his standout mix, taking this noxious brew of sounds and turning it into a razor-sharp sonic landscape that complements David Fincher’s visuals perfectly.

On its face, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO doesn’t seem like it would call for a substantial amount of computer-generated visual effects. Fincher’s background in VFX results in the incorporation of a surprisingly large quantity of effects shots.

Almost every exterior shot during the Vanger sequences has some degree of digital manipulation applied to it in the way of subtle matte paintings, scenery extensions and weather elements that blend together seamlessly in conveying Fincher’s moody vision and desire for total control over his visuals.

His affinity for imaginative opening title sequences continues here, in what is arguably his most imaginative effort to date. Set to the aforementioned “Immigrant Song” cover, the sequence plays like a dark nightmare version of those iconic James Bond title sequence, depicting key moments from the film in abstract, archetypical form as a thick black ooze splashes around violently. The choice to incorporate a black on black color scheme is undeniably stylish.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO sees David Fincher at the peak of his punk and technological aesthetic explorations. While not Fincher’s creation, the character of Lisbeth Salander fits in quite comfortably within his larger body of work—the culmination of a long flirtation with punk culture.

She is most certainly the product of the cyberpunk mentality, which values not only rebelliousness but technological proficiency as well. Unlike other depictions of this subculture in mass media, it’s easy to see that Fincher obviously respects it for what it is and aims to portray them in a realistic manner.

He builds upon the downplayed foundation he laid in THE SOCIAL NETWORK here by refusing to generate fake interfaces for Salander to use. He shows Salander actively Googling things, looking up people on Wikipedia, etc—he doesn’t shy away from showing corporate logos and interfaces as they appear in real life.

While a lot of people have a problem with blatant product placement, I can respect a director who doesn’t go out of his way to hide (or aggressively feature for that matter) brands and logos when depicting a realistic world. After all, we live in a world awash with corporate branding, so why pretend it doesn’t exist?

David Fincher’s body of work is defined by a distinctly nihilistic attitude towards story and character, even though I don’t believe he’s nihilistic himself. With THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO in particular, these sentiments are a prominent part of the storytelling.

These protagonists are morally flawed people who aren’t afraid of doing bad things to get ahead. They’re mostly atheists, and they don’t care whether you like them or not. The themes of abuse that run through the narrative also reflect this overarching mentality, playing out in the form of authority figures exerting their influence and selfish desires over the women that depend on them.

We see this reflected both on the bureaucratic level with Salander’s lecherous case worker, as well as on the familial level in Harriet Vanger’s repeated rape and abuse at the hands of her brother and father.

Architecture plays a subtle, yet evocative role in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. One of the core themes of the story is the clash between new Sweden (Salander’s weapons-grade sexual ambiguity and technical proficiency) and old Sweden (the Vanger family’s moneyed lifestyle and sprawling compound).

This clash is echoed in the architecture that Fincher chooses to present. The Vanger estate consists of classical Victorian stylings and rustic cottages; compare that to the harsh lines and modern trappings Martin Vanger’s minimalist cliffside residence (all clean lines and floor-to-ceiling glass), as well as the whole of Stockholm—very much the model of a modern European city. In showing us this duality of place and time, Fincher is able to draw a line that also points us directly to the narrative’s major emphasis on the duality of man.

Despite THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO’s impeccable pedigree and unimpeachable quality, it was a modest disappointment at the box office. It opened at a disadvantage, placing third on its debut weekend and never rising above it during the rest of its run.

There were, of course, the inevitable comparisons to the original series of film adaptations, with purists preferring them over David Fincher’s “remake”.

Having seen Fincher’s version before I ever touched the originals, I quickly found that I couldn’t get through the first few minutes of the Swedish opening installment—Fincher’s execution, to me, was so much more superior in every way that it made the originals look like cheap TV movies of the week.

Unfortunately, we will probably never get to see what David Fincher would have done with the remaining two entries in the series, as the poor box office performance of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO most likely put the kibosh on further installments.

But, as I’ve come to discover again and again since I’ve started this essay series project, time has a way of revealing the true quality of a given work. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is only three years old as of this writing, but the groundswell of appreciation is already growing—hailing the film as the most underrated in Fincher’s filmography and an effort on par with his best work.


HALO 4 “SCANNED” TRAILER (2012)

In 2012, the long-awaited, highly anticipated HALO 4 was released for the Xbox 360. During the buildup to the release, the game-makers enlisted director David Fincher to craft an unconventionally long commercial/teaser trailer.

Titled“SCANNED”, the piece takes on the POV of Master Chief, showing us flashbacks from his life as he was selected for the Master Chief program, surgically enhanced, and let loose into the galaxy to protect Earth. The flashbacks are triumphant in nature, which only underscores the severity of the situation when we cut to the present and reveal Master Chief in captivity, facing off against what appears to be a greater threat than he’s ever encountered.

“SCANNED” is a combination of live-action and all-CG elements, evoking the slick commercial work of David Fincher’s earlier advertising career as well as reiterating his confident grasp on visual effects. The high contrast, cold/blue color palette is one of the piece’s few Fincher signatures, in addition to the focus on the futurist technology required to make Master Chief in the first place. At two minutes long, “SCANNED” is a supersized spot and must have been incredibly expensive. Considering that both the HALO video game series and Fincher have huge fan bases between them, it’s a bit surprising to see that their collaboration here wasn’t hyped more than it was.
There’s not a lot of growth to see on David Fincher’s part here, other than the observation that his long, successful commercial career has made him the go-to director for only the highest-profile spots and campaigns.


HOUSE OF CARDS “CHAPTER 1 & 2” (2013)

Director David Fincher has long been a tastemaker when it comes to commercial American media. His two pilot episodes for Netflix’s HOUSE OF CARDS, released in 2013, are simply the latest in a long string of works that have influenced how movies are made, how commercials are engineered, and how music videos have evolved.

Due to HOUSE OF CARDS’ runaway success, he has played a crucial part in making the all-episodes-at-once model the indisputable future of serialized entertainment and reinforcing the notion that we’re living in a new golden age of television.

HOUSE OF CARDS had originally been a successful television series in the United Kingdom, so of course it had to be re-adapted for American audiences, who presumably have no patience for British parliamentary politics.

On principle, I think this is a terrible practice that discourages us from learning about other cultures based off the assumption that we’re too lazy to read subtitles. But like Fincher’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011) before it, once in a while the practice can create an inspired new spin on existing work that distinctly enhances its legacy within the collective consciousness.

HOUSE OF CARDS’ origins stretch back to 2008, when David Fincher’s agent approached the director with the idea while he was finishing up THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON. Fincher was interested in the idea, and enlisted hisBENJAMIN BUTTON writer Eric Roth to help him executive produce and develop the series.

After shopping it around to various cable networks around town, they found an unexpected home in streaming movie delivery service Netflix, who was in the first stages of building a block of original programming in order to compete with the likes of HBO and Showtime while bolstering their customer base. Along with LILYHAMMER and the revived ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, HOUSE OF CARDS formed part of the first wave of this original programming, which took advantage of Netflix customers’ binge-watching habits by releasing all episodes at once instead of parsing them out over the space of several weeks.

It was (and still is) a groundbreaking way to consume television, and despite the naysayers, the strategy worked brilliantly. Funnily enough, the reunion between Fincher and SE7EN (1995) star Kevin Spacey didn’t occur out of their natural friendship, but because Netflix found in its performance statistics a substantial overlap between customers who had an affinity for David Fincher and Spacey, respectively.

As such, executives at Netflix were able to deduce and mathematically reinforce the conclusion that another collaboration between both men would generate their biggest audience. This also gave them the confidence to commit to two full seasons from the outset instead of adhering to traditional television’s tired-and-true practice of producing a pilot before ordering a full series.

Admittedly, the use of metrics and numbers instead of gut instinct might be a cynical way to approach programming, but in HOUSE OF CARDS’ case, the idea really paid off. Under Fincher’s expert guidance, Spacey has delivered the best performance of his career and HOUSE OF CARDS has emerged as one of the best serialized dramas around, rivaling the likes of such heavyweights as MAD MEN, THE WIRE, and BREAKING BAD.

Fincher directed the first two episodes in the series, which takes place during the inauguration of fictional President Garrett Walker. Walker wouldn’t even be taking the oath of office if it weren’t for the substantial canvassing done by House Majority Whip Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) in exchange for the coveted position of Secretary of State.

After taking office, however, Walker has a change of heart and reneges on his promise. Underwood shows grace and discipline in accepting the President Elect’s decision, but immediately begins scheming how to manipulate his way to the top. He’s simultaneously challenged and reinforced by his wife Claire (Robin Wright), the CEO of a prominent nonprofit and a strong-willed leader in her own right.

On the President’s first day in office, Underwood targets the new nominee for Secretary of State, Michael Kern, via an education reform bill— which is revealed to be radically left-leaning and unacceptable to the public’s interests.

Underwood leaks the bill to the press through Washington Herald reporter Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), whose story on the matter lands on the Herald’s front page and prompts the education reform chairman to step aside and designate Frank himself to head up the authorship of a new bill.

It isn’t long until Underwood manages to unseat Kern by exploiting his handicaps via hardline questions from the press, subsequently installing a pawn of his own as the new candidate. Over the course of the first season, Underwood’s machinations and orchestrations will whisk him up into the upper echelons of power and within a heartbeat of the highest office in the land.

Kevin Spacey has always been a well-respected actor, but his performance as Frank Underwood reminds us of his unparalleled level of talent. Underwood is an unconventional narrator, straddling a line between an omniscient and personal point of view.

A southern gentleman from South Carolina first, a Democrat second, and currently the House Majority Whip (a temporary position, to be sure), Underwood is a ruthlessly calculating and manipulative politician—but at the same time he’s endlessly charismatic and armed with an endless supply of euphemisms and folksy proverbs.

Although Spacey and David Fincher haven’t worked together on this close a scale since 1995, it seems they’re able to slip right into the proceedings with a great degree of confidence and comfort.

Robin Wright, also on her second collaboration with Fincher after THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, plays Underwood’s wife, Claire. Every bit as strong and calculating as her husband, the character of Claire adds a distinctly Shakespearean air to the story by channeling the insidiously supportive archetype of Lady Macbeth.

The CEO of a successful nonprofit firm, Claire pulls her weight around the Underwood household and becomes Frank’s rock during difficult times. Wright does a great job of making Claire inherently likeable and relatable, despite her outwardly cold characterization.

With HOUSE OF CARDS, the Mara family has established something of a dynasty in their collaborations with Fincher. After Rooney’s career-making performances in THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010) and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, older sister Kate proves every bit her equal as Zoe Barnes, a wet-around-the-ears journalist for the Washington Herald. Plucky, street smart and ambitious, Barnes is able to use her intelligence as a tool of empowerment just as well as her sex.

Corey Stoll and Mahershala Ali, as Peter Russo and Remy Denton respectively, prove to be revelations that stick out amidst the clutter of David Fincher’s supporting cast. Stoll’s Russo is a politician from East Pennsylvania who has problems with alcohol and drug abuse. He’s severely disorganized and impulsive, despite his promising intelligence and ambition.

Ali’s Denton is almost the exact opposite—super focused, disciplined, and exceedingly principled. Denton is a high-powered lawyer who serves as a great foil to Underwood’s scheming. Ali’s performance also benefits due having worked with Fincher on THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON.

Like all of Fincher’s late-career work, HOUSE OF CARDS is shot entirely digitally, taking advantage of the Red Epic’s pure, clean image to convey the series’ sterile, almost-surgical tone. Instead of hiring a cinematographer he’s worked with before, David Fincher enlists the eye of Eigil Bryld, who ably replicates the director’s signature aesthetic.

The cold, steely color palette has been desaturated to a pallid monotone in its treatment of blues, teals, and greys. Warm tones, like practical lights that serve to create a soft, cavernous luminance in interior chambers, are dialed into the yellow side of the color spectrum.

The aesthetic deviates from Fincher’s style, however, in opting for a much shallower focus—even in wide shots. Curiously, the aspect ratio seems to be fluid from format to format. When streamed on Netflix, HOUSE OF CARDS is presented in 1.85:1, but watching it on Blu Ray, the image appears to be cropped to Fincher’s preferred 2.40:1 aspect ratio, making for an inherently more-cinematic experience.

HOUSE OF CARDS plays like an old-school potboiler/espionage thriller, featuring shadowy compositions and strategic placement of subjects in his frame that are reminiscent of classic cloak-and-dagger cinema.

The camera work is sedate, employing subtle dolly work when need be. The effect is a patient, plodding pace that echoes Underwood’s unrelenting focus and forward-driven ambition. Perhaps the most effective visual motif is the inspired breaking of the fourth wall, when Spacey pulls out of the scene at hand to monologue directly to camera (which makes the audience complicit in his nefarious plot).

Spacey delivers these sidebar moments with a deliciously dry wit, enriching what might otherwise be a stale story of everyday politics and injecting it with the weight of Shakespearean drama. The foundation of this technique can be seen in 1999’s FIGHT CLUB, where David Fincher had Edward Norton address the audience directly in a few select sequences. HOUSE OF CARDS fully commits to this idea, doing away with conventional voiceover entirely.

While it’s been used in endless parodies since the series’ release, the very fact that the technique is commonly joked about points to its fundamental power.

Another visual conceit that has been copied by other pop culture works like NONSTOP (2014) is the superimposition of text message conversations over the action, rather than cutting to an insert shot of the message displayed on the cell phone’s screen.

Considering that characters have been texting each other in movies for almost ten years now, I’m frankly surprised it took us this long for the on-screen subtitle conceit to enter into the common cinematic language. It’s an inspired way to dramatize pedestrian, everyday exchanges that act as the modern-day equivalent of coded messages in cloak-and-dagger stories.

Behind the camera, Fincher retains most of his regular department heads save for one new face. Donald Graham Burt returns as Production Designer, creating authentic replicas of the hallowed halls and chambers of Washington DC. Kirk Baxter, who normally edits Fincher’s features with Angus Wall, goes solo in HOUSE OF CARDS and weaves everything together in a minimalist, yet effective fashion.

The ever-dependable Ren Klyce returns as Sound Designer, giving an overly-talkie drama some much-needed sonic embellishment. The only new face in the mix is Jeff Beal, who composes the series’ music. Beal’s theme for HOUSE OF CARDS is instantly iconic, fueled by an electronic pulse that bolsters traditional orchestral strings and horns— echoing the romantic statues of fallen heroes that dot the DC landscape with a patriotic, mournful sound.

The series doesn’t rely on much in the way of needledrops, so David Fincher’s inclusion of two pre-recorded tracks is worth noting. The first episode features an inaugural ball where we hear Dmiti Shostakovich’s “Second Waltz”, which cinephiles should recognize as the main theme to Kubrick’s EYES WIDE SHUT (1999).

Additionally, the second episode features Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” when Russo goes to visit a conspiracy theorist in rural Massachusetts. While not exactly the most original choice of music, it’s appropriate enough.

For visionary directors like Fincher, television is tough because of the need to work within a strictly defined set of aesthetic boundaries. While this is changing and becoming a better stage for visually dynamic work every day, the basic rule of thumb is to direct the pilot in order to set the style in place and make the entire series conform around it.

In that regard, HOUSE OF CARDS as a series absolutely oozes Fincher’s influence, despite 24 of the (to-date) 26 episodes being helmed by different directors. This phenomenon can be ascribed to the fact that David Fincher’s episodes dovetail quite nicely with several themes and imagery he’s built his career on exploring.

Take the opening titles for instance—while they are usually part and parcel with the conventional television experience, Fincher makes them his own by showing time-lapse footage of Washington DC locales, suggesting the bustling scope of his stage while further exploring the passage of time as a thematic idea— also seen in earlier work like ZODIAC (2007) or THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON.

This theme is also reflected in Fincher’s depiction of DC’s iconic architecture. Like he did in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, his compositions and location selections when taken as a whole suggest a clash between the old Washington and the new.

Old DC, marked by classical, colonial structures like The White House and The Lincoln Memorial, face off against the growing tide of steel and glass towers, or the modern infrastructural design of subway stations. A key takeaway of HOUSE OF CARDS is that Washington DC, a city defined by its romantic memorials to the past, is increasingly modernizing into a world city of the future.

This transition is aided by mankind’s increasing dependence on— and complicated relationship with—technology; another core idea that David Fincher has grappled with throughout his career. HOUSE OF CARDS’ focusing prism is communication: cell phones, text messages, the Internet, Apple computers, CNN, etc.

The series goes to great lengths to depict how information is disseminated in the digital age, with government and the media forming a complex, symbiotic relationship.

In asking the audience to root for, essentially, the bad guy, HOUSE OF CARDS echoes the strong undercurrent of nihilism that marks Fincher’s stories. Underwood is less of a protagonist than he is an antihero.

Objectively, he’s a bad person who’s scheming to outright steal the Presidency to rule the world as he sees fit. In real life, we’d react to this sort of notion with outrage—just ask anyone who’s ever irrationally obsessed over a particular birth certificate of a certain standing President. However, we can’t help but root for Underwood to succeed, simply because he’s just so damn attractive and charismatic (on top of actually being, you know, a fully-fleshed out, relatable person with moral shades of grey and not a stock villain archetype).

HOUSE OF CARDS’ groundbreaking release was met with quite the warm reception. It was nominated for several Emmys (a big deal for a series that hadn’t been broadcast first on television), and launched Netflix into HBO’s orbit in terms of compelling original content.

For Fincher as a director, HOUSE OF CARDS served as a great comeback after the disappointment of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. The series, whose third season is scheduled to premiere in February 2015, is a confident, near-flawless exploration of man’s lust for power and our complicated governmental structure—and wouldn’t be nearly as successful without David Fincher’s guiding hand. My one regret with HOUSE OF CARDS is that he didn’t direct more episodes.


COMMERICALS & MUSIC VIDEO (2013-2014)

Director David Fincher barely had any time to notice the modestly-disappointing performance of 2011’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, what with the continuing development of several projects he was attached to make. It would be 3 years before he was back in cinemas with another feature, but the years between 2011-2014 were by no means a fallow period.

His sheer love for directing and for being on set couldn’t keep him away for long— and so in 2013 he returned to the arena that first made his name, armed with a new commercial and a new music video.

JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE: “SUIT & TIE” (2013)

You couldn’t go anywhere in the Summer of 2013 without hearing Justin Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie” on the airwaves. As Timberlake’s own bid for Michael Jackson’s pop throne, the song’s broad appeal couldn’t be denied.

The inevitable music video for the song couldn’t be trusted with just any filmmaker—it was too high-profile to go to anyone but the biggest directors in town. Most likely due to their successful collaboration in 2010’s THE SOCIAL NETWORK, Timberlake chose Fincher as the director for “SUIT & TIE”—their union begetting one of the better music videos in many, many years.

Fincher’s visual aesthetic proves quite adept at its translation into the world of high fashion and style. He uses black and white digital cinematography and a 2.40:1 aspect ratio to echo the polished, sleek vibe of Timberlake’s song.

While a lot of his earlier music videos were shot in black and white to achieve a sense of grit, David Fincher’s use of it here echoes the crispness of a black tuxedo against a white shirt.

There’s a great interplay between light and dark throughout the piece, both in the broad strokes like the dramatic silhouettes he gets from his high contrast lighting setups, as well as smaller touches like Timberlake’s white socks that peek out from between black pants and shoes (another homage to Michael Jackson).

Despite being primarily a for-hire vehicle for Timberlake and a selling tool for his single, “SUIT & TIE” manages to incorporate a few of Fincher’s long-held thematic fascinations.

Fincher’s exploration of our relationship with technology sees a brief occurrence here as Timberlake and Jay-Z utilize state of the art recording equipment in the studio, as well as employing iPads as part of the songwriting process.

David Fincher features Apple products in his work so much more prominently than other filmmakers that I’m beginning to think he has a secret product placement deal with them. Architecture also plays a subtle role in the video, seen in Timberlake’s slick, modern bachelor pad as well as the Art Deco stylings and graceful arches of the stage he performs on.

One strange thing I noticed, though: the size of the stage itself doesn’t match the venue it’s housed in. For example, when the camera looks towards Timberlake, the stage extends pretty deep behind him like it was the Hollywood Bowl.

But when we cut to the reverse angle and see the audience, the venue is revealed to be disproportionally shallow and intimate. If you were to draw out the geography onto a blueprint, you’d realize it was a very unbalanced auditorium. Most likely, these two shots were shot in separate locations and stitched together with editing.

As his first music video in several years, “SUIT & TIE” finds Fincher working at the top of his game in familiar territory. It’s easily one of his best music videos and will no doubt serve as a taste-making piece and influencer for many pop videos to come.


CALVIN KLEIN: “DOWNTOWN” (2013)

Later the same year, Fincher collaborated with his THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO star Rooney Mara in a spot for Calvin Klein perfume called “DOWNTOWN”. Also shot in digital black and white, the spot finds David Fincher and Mara eschewing the punk-y grunge of their previous collaboration in favor of an edgy, glamorous look.

Mara herself is depicted as a modern day Audrey Hepburn—being adored by the press as she attends junkets and does photo shoots—but is also seen engaging in daily urban life and riding the subway (while listening to her iPod, natch). Fincher’s love of architecture is seen in several setups, the most notable being a shot prominently featuring Mara framed against NYC’s George Washington Bridge. The whole piece is scored to a track by Karen O, a kindred spirit of Mara’s and Fincher’s who provided the vocals for Trent Reznor’s re-arrangement of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” for THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Overall,“DOWNTOWN” is a brilliantly executed and stylish spot that sells its product beautifully.


GAP: “DRESS NORMAL” CAMPAIGN (2014)

2014 marked director David Fincher’s return to cinema screens with his domestic thriller GONE GIRL, following a three year hiatus from feature filmmaking.  It also saw the infamous provocateur release a series of four commercial spots for the blandest clothing label in the business: Gap.

In a transparent bid to regain some cultural relevancy, Gap released a campaign entitled “DRESS NORMAL”, a move that could be construed as the struggling brand capitalizing on their sudden popularity amongst the emergent “normcore” crowd– arguably one of the more idiotic non-trends in recent memory.

To his credit, Fincher achieves Gap’s goals brilliantly, creating four effortlessly cool and stylish pieces (despite what some of the more-cynical voices in the blogosphere might say).  Titled “Golf”, “Stairs”, “Kiss”, and “Drive”, all are presented in stark shades of black and white, rendered crisply onto the digital frame.

Fincher eschews a sense of modernity for a jazzy mid-century vibe, with the old-fashioned production design and cinematography coming across as a particularly well-preserved lost film from the French New Wave.  Each spot pairs together a couple (or groups) of beautiful urbanites living out the prime of their youth in generic urban environs.

David Fincher’s hand is most evident in the sleek, modern camerawork that belies the campaign’s timeless appeal.  He employs a variety of ultra-smooth dolly and technocrane movements that effortlessly glide across his vignettes while hiding the true complexity of the moves themselves.

All in all, Fincher’s “DRESS NORMAL” spots are quite effective, injecting some much-needed style and sex appeal into Gap’s tired branding efforts.


GONE GIRL (2014)

Since the beginning of time, men and women have been at odds with each other.  One of the grand ironies of the universe is that testosterone and estrogen act against each other despite needing to work in harmony in order to perpetuate the species.

We scoff at the term “battle of the sexes”, like it’s some absurdly epic war over territory or ideology, but the fact of the matter is that, no matter how hard we try to bridge the gap, men and women just aren’t built to fully comprehend each other like they would a member of their own sex.

Yet despite these fundamental differences of opinion and perspective, we continue coupling up and procreating in the name of love, family, and civilization.  In this light, the institution of marriage can be seen as something of an armistice, or a treaty– an agreement by two combative parties to equally reciprocate affection, protection and support.

Naturally, when this treaty is violated in a high-profile way like, say, the murder or sudden disappearance of someone at the hands of his or her spouse, we can’t help but find ourselves captivated by the lurid headlines and ensuing media frenzy.  Names like OJ Simpson, Robert Blake, or Scott Peterson loom large in our collective psyche as boogeymen symbolizing the ultimate marital transgression.

The treacherous world of domesticity serves as the setting of director David Fincher’s tenth feature film, GONE GIRL(2014).  Adapted by author Gillian Flynn from her novel of the same name, the film marks David Fincher’s return to the big screen after a three year absence following the disappointing reception of 2011’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.

In that time, he had refreshed his artistic energies with Netflix’s razor-sharp political thriller HOUSE OF CARDS (2013), with the serial’s warm reaction boosting his stock amongst the Hollywood elite.

Fincher’s oeuvre trades in nihilistic protagonists with black hearts and ruthless convictions, so naturally, the churning machinations and double crosses of Flynn’s book were an effortless match for his sensibilities.

Working with producers Joshua Donen, Arnon Milchan, Reese Witherspoon, as well as his own producing partner Cean Chaffin, Fincher manages to infuse a nasty undercurrent of his trademark gallows humor into GONE GIRL, making for a highly enjoyable domestic thriller that stands to be included amongst his very best work.

GONE GIRL begins like any other normal day for Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck).  But this day isn’t like any others– it’s the fifth anniversary of his wedding to wife Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), a privileged New York socialite and the real-life inspiration for “Amazing Amy”, the main character in a series of successful children’s books authored by her parents.

He leaves home to check in on the bar he runs in the nearby town of North Carthage, Missouri, expressing his dread of the occasion to his twin sister Margot, who mixes drinks there.  When he arrives back at the generic suburban McMansion he shares with Amy, he finds a grisly scene– overturned furniture, shattered glass, streaks of blood… and no Amy.

The police launch an investigation into Amy’s whereabouts, with her status as minor literary celebrity causing a disproportionate stir in the media.  He’s taunted at every turn by deceitful talk show hosts and news anchors, as well as clues from Amy herself, left behind in the form of letters that are part of gift-finding game that’s become their anniversary tradition.

In her absence, the clues have taken on a more much foreboding aura– channeling similar vibes and imagery from David Fincher’s 1997 classic mystery THE GAME.  The media’s increased scrutiny on Nick’s life and the history of his relationship with Amy drags his flaws as a husband out into the light, where they’re subsequently used against him to raise the possibility that he just might be responsible for her disappearance.  But did he kill his wife?  Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t… but the truth will be more surprising than anyone could’ve expected.

Ben Affleck headlines the film as Nick Dunne, skewering his real-life image as a handsome leading man by bringing to the fore a natural douchebag quality we’ve always suspected he possessed.  Dunne covers up his supreme narcissism and anger issues with a thin layer of charm, finding the perfect balance between a sympathetic protagonist who is way in over his head and a slick operator who thinks he’s got his game on lock.

Affleck proves inspired casting on Fincher’s part, and it’s nice to be reminded that besides being a great director in his own right, he’s still a great performer.  As Amy Dunne, Rosamund Pike conjures up one of the most terrifying villainesses in screen history.

An icy, calculating sociopath, Amy will do anything and everything necessary to carry out the perfect plot against her husband– even if the physical harm she deals out is on herself.  Pike’s skincrawling performance resulted in the film’s only Academy Award nomination, but it’s a well-deserved one that will be remembered for quite some time.

If the pairing of Affleck and Pike as GONE GIRL’s leads seems a bit odd or off-center, then Fincher’s supporting cast boast an even-more eclectic collection of characters.  Neil Patrick Harris– Doogie Howser himself– plays Amy’s college sweetheart Desi Collins.

A rich pretty boy and pseudo-stalker with bottomless reserves of inherited funds, he’s so intent on dazzling Amy with his high-tech toys and spacious homes that he’s completely oblivious to her machinations against him.  Primarily known for his comedic roles in TV and film, NPH makes a successful bid for more serious roles with a performance that’s every bit as twisted as the two leads.

Beating him in the stunt casting department, however, is maligned director Tyler Perry, whose films are often derided by critics as patronizing and shamelessly pandering despite their immense popularity amongst the African American population.  The news of his involvement in GONE GIRL with met with gasps of disbelief and confusion by the blogosphere, but here’s the thing– Tyler Perry is great in this movie.

He effortlessly falls into the role of Tanner bolt, a high-powered celebrity lawyer from New York, soothing Nick with his seasoned expertise and wearing expensive designer suits so comfortably they might as well be sweatpants.  He’s extremely convincing as a whip-smart, cunning attorney, never once hinting at the fact this is the same man who became rich and famous for wearing a fat suit under a mumu.

Emily Ratajkowski and Patrick Fugit are great as Nick’s jiggly co-ed mistress Andie and the no-nonsense Officer Gilpin, respectively, but GONE GIRL’s real revelation is character actress Kim Dickens.

Calling to mind a modern, more serious version of Frances McDormand’s folksy homicide investigator in FARGO (1996), Dickens’ Detective Boney is highly observant and sly– almost to a fault.  The joy in watching Dickens’ performance is seeing her internal struggle against the growing realization that none of her prior experience or expertise could ever prepare her for Amy’s level of scheming.

GONE GIRL retains David Fincher’s signature look, thanks to the return of his regular cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth.  As a team, they’ve built their careers out of using new filmmaking technologies to fit their needs, and GONE GIRL isn’t one to break the tradition.

One of the earliest features to shoot on Red Cinema’s new Dragon sensor, GONE GIRL was captured full-frame at 6k resolution and then thrown into a 2.35:1-matted 4k timeline in post-production.

This allowed Fincher and his editing partner Kirk Baxter to re-compose their frames as they saw fit with razor-precision and minimal quality degradation.  This circumstance also afforded the ability to employ better camera stabilization in a bid to perfect that impossibly-smooth sense of movement that Fincher prefers.

As one of the medium’s most vocal proponents of digital technology, David Fincher inherently understands the advantages of the format– an understanding that empowers him with the ability to make truly uncompromised work.

Appropriate to its subject matter, GONE GIRL is a very dark film.  Fincher and Cronenweth use dark wells of shadow to convey a foreboding mood, while Fincher’s signature cold color palette renders Nick’s trials in bleak hues of blue, yellow, green, and grey.

Red, a color that David Fincher claims to find too distracting on film, rarely appears in GONE GIRL, save for when he specifically wants your attention on a small detail of the frame– like, say, a small blood splatter on the hood over the kitchen stove.

Despite the consistent gloom, the film does occasionally find short moments of warm, golden sunlight and deeply-saturated color.  Fincher’s slow, creeping camerawork leers with omniscience, placing its characters at an emotional arm’s distance.

Knowing Fincher’s background as a commercial director, it’s not surprising to see GONE GIRL throw around nonchalant product placement for flyover-country conglomerations like Walmart, KFC and Dunkin Donuts.

Looking back over his other features, it’s clear that David Fincher has never been one to shy away from the presence of well-known brands in his frame– indeed, a large chunk of his bank account is there as a direct result of his interaction with brand names and logos.

Product placement is a controversial topic amongst filmmakers, with many seeing the intrusion of commerce as an almost-pornographic sacrilege towards art, but Fincher’s view seems to be that reality is simply saturated with corporate logos, branding, and advertisements, so why should a film striving for realism be any different?

In Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor and his musical partner Atticus Ross, Fincher has found a kindred dark soul, and their third collaboration together after 2010’s THE SOCIAL NETWORK and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO doesn’t surprise in its aim to bring something entirely unexpected to the proceedings.

Working from David Fincher’s brief that the music reside in the space between calm and dread, Reznor and Ross’s electronic score for GONE GIRL is characterized by soothing ambient tones interrupted by a pulsing staccato that conveys the razor-sharp undercurrents of malice that Amy so effortlessly hides behind her statuesque facade.

Outside of John Williams and Steven Spielberg, it’s hard to think of a composer/director partnership where each artist’s aesthetic is so perfectly suited towards the other.  Reznor, Ross, and Fincher have cultivated a symbiotic relationship that, together with Fincher’s regular sound designer Ren Klyce and his consistently excellent and immersive soundscapes, elevates any project they undertake into a darkly sublime experience.

A nihilistic sentiment abounds in the style of GONE GIRL, falling quite effortlessly into David Fincher’s larger body of work.  The same attention to detail and insight into the banal side of law enforcement (paperwork, legal red-tape, etc.) that marked 2007’s ZODIAC is present in GONE GIRL’s almost-clinical depiction of the day-to-day process of investigating such a luridly mysterious crime.

Two of David Fincher’s most consistent fascinations as a director– architecture and technology– play substantial roles in the drama, but never at the expense of story and character.  The architecture that Fincher concerns himself with in GONE GIRL is the domestic structures in which we house our families, or to put it another way, the castles in which we shelter our charges.

However, as seen through the perspective of David Fincher’s particularly dark and ironic sense of humor, our suburban castles instead become prisons.  The neutral tones of upper-middle-class domesticity that pervade Amy and Nick’s McMansion are almost oppressive in their blandness, while the structural elements on which they’re painted bear no characteristics of the values of those who inhabit them.

Fincher reinforces this idea by shooting from low angles to expose the ceiling, suggesting that the walls are figuratively closing in on his characters.  Likewise, Desi Collins’ grandiose, rustic lakeside retreat is simply too spacious to ever feel constricting or claustrophobic, what with it’s cathedral-height vaulted ceilings and oversized windows letting in an abundance of sunlight.

However, Desi has rigged his well-appointed home with an overblown array of security cameras and other surveillance, effectively trapping Amy inside if she wishes to remain under the auspices of “missing, presumed dead”.  And speaking of technology, David Fincher places a substantial focus on Nick’s distractions with video games, cell phones, oversized televisions and robot dogs.

This “boys with toys” mentality is quite appropriate to Fincher’s vision, as it is crucial to the authenticity of Amy’s convictions that Nick has fallen prey to that all-too-common suburban phenomenon of men turning to the stimulation afforded by electronics and gadgets after growing tired of their wives.

The dangers of growing complacent in your marriage– whereby we distract ourselves with screens instead of with each other– is a key message in GONE GIRL, and Fincher’s career-long exploration of mankind’s relationship to technology makes him a particularly suitable messenger.

Thanks in part to GONE GIRL’s high profile as a bestselling book as well as David Fincher’s own profile as a highly skilled artist with a fervent cult following, the film was a strong success at the box office.  As of this writing, it actually holds the records for Fincher’s highest-grossing theatrical run in the United States.

Critical reviews were mostly positive, and while it received only one nomination for Pike’s performance at the 2015 Oscars, it’s generally regarded as one of the best films of the year.  The tone and subject matter of GONE GIRL may not feel particularly new for Fincher (a notion that may have played into the film’s lack of Oscar nominations), but this well-trodden ground provides a solid platform for David Fincher to perfect what he already does best: delivering taut, stylish thrillers with razor-sharp edges.

Now firmly into middle age (52 as of this writing), Fincher could be forgiven for what so many other artists his age do: slowing down, mellowing out, looking backwards, worrying about legacy, etc.  It’s pretty evident however that he has no intention of doing any of those things.  While his next feature has yet to be announced, he’s deep in development on several projects running the gamut from theatrical to television.

Fincher’s skill set may have become more refined and sophisticated in its taste, but that doesn’t mean he’s gone soft on us.  Indeed, he’s actually grown much sharper.

He’s cleaved off extraneous waste from his aesthetic, and in return he’s able to focus his energies to the point of laser precision.  One only needs to look at GONE GIRL’s gut-churning sex/murder sequence to see that he hasn’t lost his unflinching eye for the macabre and his affinity for stunning his audience out of complacency.

He may be older, yes, but in many ways, he’s still that same young buck eager to shock the world with Gwyneth’s head in a box.


Author Cameron Beyl is the creator of The Directors Series and an award-winning filmmaker of narrative features, shorts, and music videos.  His work has screened at numerous film festivals and museums, in addition to being featured on tastemaking online media platforms like Vice Creators Project, Slate, Popular Mechanics and Indiewire. 

THE DIRECTORS SERIES is an educational collection of video and text essays by filmmaker Cameron Beyl exploring the works of contemporary and classic film directors. 


David Fincher’S FILMOGRAPHY

SaveSave

IFH 124: What is Your Film Really Worth?

Right-click here to download the MP3

So you are thinking of making an indie film or you’ve just finished making one…now what? When filmmakers go on the long journey of making a feature film they rarely ask the question that could make or break the success of the movie,

“What is my film worth in the marketplace?”

Before you begin the process of making your film ask the following questions?

  • What is your film worth?
  • Who is your market? Is it in a genre that can sell itself without stars?
  • Do your actors have any market value overseas or domestically?
  • Does the budget justify all of the above?
  • What’s the tipping point as far as the budget is concerned for a drama or comedy with no stars?
  • What is your distribution plan?
  • Have you spoken to a distributor yet to see what they are looking for?

In this episode, I discuss the questions that most filmmakers don’t want to ask themselves but knowing the answer is imperative.

Alex Ferrari 3:44
So guys, today is our Christmas episode of the indie film hustle podcast, I'll probably just be doing a flashback for the rest of the week, probably towards the end of the week. Because I'm gonna take a little bit of time off just a day just a little bit of time Don't worry, I'll be back. But But yeah, I'm gonna probably do one more episode before the year is out. Maybe a New Year's Eve. special little special surprise I got for you guys in New Year's Eve but this is the last one of this week. So soak it up people because I'm gonna take a little vacation with my family and relax. And when I say relax, really I'm working a lot but but I am going to take a little time off to enjoy the holidays as I expect all of you to do as well. Now guys, I've got extremely exciting news which I can't share with you yet because I am bound by paperwork that I can't tell you. But I have huge news about this is Meg and I will be able to tell you about that news after the new year. But for right now, just know that Meg is loved, and she will be seen soon. I am also currently working on my next movie, which you guys will be hearing about after the new year. Last year, I said I was gonna make one movie on my New Year's Eve or New Year's Day episode. And how I made one it was it's pretty amazing. And this year, I'm going to try to do too, I know it's not I'm gonna at least one for sure. And then maybe start a second one towards the end of the year. I'll let you guys know how that works out. But that will be my early New Year's resolution, because I'm crazy. And this is how the way I roll. But I am excited to talk to you guys about the new the new project I'm going to be working on it's something that I think a lot of the filmmakers out there will really appreciate. So more on that in the coming months. Now. We are here today to ask a question that a lot of filmmakers don't want to ask, because it's a scary question. But I'm here to help. I'm here for you guys to ask this question. And really be honest with yourself as filmmakers, as artists, as business people as entrepreneurs, because that's what you guys are your entrepreneurs, your business men and women, and filmmakers, your artists and business people. And that's how you have to look at this if you don't, you're dead. And I've told that many times on this podcast, but the question is, what is your film worth? Now that question could be asked at multiple points throughout the production process, preferably at the pre production or even screenwriting process, as opposed to I just finished my movie now What the hell do I do? You know, this is a question that many filmmakers don't want to ask because it might stop the magic ride of making their movie because they've been trying to make it for so long. They've been trying to make their movies for so long, that they, they're just like, I don't want I don't want to talk about the I don't wanna talk about the I just want to make my movie, I want to make my art. And that's where a lot of filmmakers fail. Most actually, filmmakers fail that way. And that was mistakes I've made in my past with my past projects as well. You don't ask that question, what is your film worth? Because it is if you're going to go out there and put it out in the marketplace? What is it worth the film festivals? What is it worth to distributors? What is it worth to the audience that you're trying to sell this movie to? Now, if you're making art films, and you don't care about making money, that's a different story. Probably not listening to this podcast, if you are that person, if you are, if you are the person who wants to actually make money, make a living, make a sustainable living and a career out of making your own art making your own films, then this is the podcast you're listening to. So before you begin the process of making a film, you have to you have to ask the following questions. Who is your market? You know, you can't compete with Hollywood, you can't hit broad demographics. I don't want to hear Oh, you know, it's 18 to 25. No, it's not 18 to 25, you're an indie filmmaker, you can't aim at those kinds of demographics, you don't have the resources, or the reach to reach all 18 to 25 males who like comic books, you can't do that, you're not going to be able to do that. What you need to do is understand your specific niche, you have to understand where and who your audience is, who are you going to market this to, prior to ever shooting a frame, you have to understand this, that a lot that alone will add will let you know what your film is worth by your ability to be able to get to that audience. So knowing your audience is step one, being able to get to that audience is the second part of this process. And I'm going to go through a bunch of these questions. And at the end, I'm going to kind of give you more of a breakdown of what your film is actually really worth. The next question is, is your film in a genre that can sell itself without stars, you know, horror and action have been that those genres for a long time, they travel very well. You don't need to speak the language to be scared or thrilled by action. So those generally speaking are the genres that sell the easiest. Now, with that said, when you're creating a whore, historically, it's been very cheap and easy to create whore. Because you know, you need a scary house, you need a scary story. And you can scare the hell out of people without a lot of dialogue. And you don't need a lot of production either you're not production value or a lot of cost and to create production value. So that's why a lot of filmmakers start off with horror movies Evil Dead same Raimi did Evil Dead the Coen brothers did something like blood simple, which is not a horror movie, but it's it's it's a thriller without question. But that those are generally genres that work very well. But in today's world, there's a gluttony of horror movies, and a gluttony of action movies, but I think more horror than, than action, from my experience and from my research, so Before you jump on board, again, it all depends on the budget of the movie, if you're making a $5,000 horror movie, make a $5,000 horror movie, you're making $150,000 horror movie, there's other things you have to take in consideration before you plunk down that kind of money. But I'll get to that in a minute. So and also are these genres that will sell without stars. So those two genres have historically been able to sell without stars, a period drama, without any major stars in it is, you're just not going to sell it's going to be very, very difficult to sell. So dramas, comedies don't really work really well overseas. So understand that you've pretty much cut out the rest of the planet, if you're going to do a comedy, understand who your audience is, and who your demographic is. So you know, family movies do very well domestically, because there's not a tremendous amount of family movies. faith based movies do extremely well, because there's not a gluttony of those kinds of movies. And there's a big audience and a niche of people who want to get that kind of content. But you have to ask that question, Is this something that's going to sell without stars? Because with stars, you know, you put Will Smith in a movie, look what happened this past weekend, with collateral beauty, amazing cast, made $7 million $7 million.

And then same cast, but the audience just was not buying it, they didn't want it. So cast as an order automatically mean something, it means like you put will in a action packed movie, or a big temple movie, who probably do a lot better than the Oscar bait that he's been doing recently, which has not been working out for him. And I love a lot. I think he's a very talented actor, and he's done some amazing films. But just to point out that stars don't always mean any everything. But in the indie world, it definitely means a lot. You know, even if, if you had Will Smith in your little indie drama, guess what, and you and you made that movie for a million dollars, you're gonna make your money back purely on his star power. So understand the genre you're in and ask yourself, does it sell with or without stars? Now, do your actors have any market value overseas, or even domestically? Because you have to ask the question as well. A lot of times you'll you'll hire actors that you think have a market value and it's going to be able to help you sell your movie but in the reality it isn't there's there's there's an actor who will remain nameless, but whoever's if you guys have been listening to this show, you know who I'm talking about, who's been on a lot of movies, he does probably about 15 20 million or 20 million, but 15 or 20 features if not more a year, so he's pretty much diluted his brand to the point where he wants was worth something domestically and overseas but now because there's so much product of him you know, I go to district you know, friend of mine What goes through distributors like Oh, man, I can't use that guy, I've got three other features with that guy doesn't really mean anything anymore. So you got to be careful with that understand what your market value is for the stars that you have. Sometimes, TV actors who have not done a lot of theatrical work or film where you know a feature film work, have huge followings overseas, and have or huge followings period. Look at the movie for lovers only by the Polish brothers, I've talked about that movie many times is one of the inspirations for this is mag that they had Stena caidic in it, and she is she's done a few movies, but she's not a theatrical, you know, star and she doesn't have a theatrical, you know, resume, she's more TV, TV, movies and things like that. But she was she had a huge rabid following. And they were able to make a movie with very little money, if not no money, and release that themselves. And they made over half a million dollars, purely on the fact of it was a Polish Brothers movie. And because of Stan, and her and her rabid fan base. So again, you have to ask yourself those questions like what kind of market value does your stars have? And do they have any kind of market value overseas, or online, the new world is not just television and features, but also YouTube influencers, people online that have huge audiences that you can sell to, and so on. So there's you just have to understand who you're putting your movie and what kind of value they bring to the movie, other than their talent. But these are questions you have to ask, does the budget justify anything I've spoken about? So that is the biggest, biggest mistake I see filmmakers make that they'll go Look, I just spent a quarter of a million dollars making a movie with no stars in it. I'm like, Well, what kind of isn't an action? Is it like, no, it's a drama, or it's a comedy. I'm like, Are you kidding me? You're done. You'll never make your money back. You'll never ever, ever, ever, ever make your money back in today's market. It's not gonna happen. So did that justify the $250,000 no matter how beautiful the movie Look, it could be a work of art. But to break through all the noise, you're gonna have to do something extremely interesting, extremely revolutionary. For you to even get some notice, and a perfect quote I heard from Um, I think I think we talked about this in another interview, but I'm not sure where I heard it from. But the quote from Quinn Tarantino is like, indie films are, you know, independent films are like waves on the shore, they just keep coming, and coming and coming. And, you know, no one really pays attention. Well, Quinn says, like, you don't have to, you don't want to be one of those waves, you want to blow up the beach. And that's what you want to do with your film, you have to do something so out there, so unique that you get noticed. And that is one of the key things that you would have to do to justify a $250,000 movie dollar film, with no stars in it as a comedy, or as a drama of some sort or thriller. It doesn't justify that budget, you have to figure out what that justify. So what is a drama that has no stars justify in today's world, and all depends if you have an audience, if you have a niche, if you have an audience you can sell to, it could be one budget, you know, if you've got five or 6 million followers, and you've sold to them before and you know, you can make easily a million dollars, and that's not out of reach, then you could justify half a million dollar budget easily without question. You know, if you could justify seven or $1,000 budget, you know, if you're if you really feel comfortable, that a million dollars is something that you can get. So that's where the justification for a budget comes in. So if you have no stars, and you want to make a little indie drama, well then make the movie for five grand, make it for 10 or 15 grand, because if you don't make your money back, it's not going to kill you, you know, I wouldn't go more than 50 grand on a project like that, even then I think it'd be a little too much. You know, it depends on the Edit, there's a lot of variables to it depends on the director, it depends on who's involved depends on the star, all that kind of stuff. But let's say no stars, first time director making their first drama, man, you should make your movie for 10 or 15, grand, 20 grand, you know, and that's it, don't try to make something huge, right out the gate, it's gonna be it's gonna, it's going to be very tough to recoup that money. And what people in this business like, and investors like is someone who can make their money back, and someone who can make them a profit, and someone who can make successful film after successful film. So if you make a $5,000 movie, and you sold it for 10,000, well, hell, you just doubled your money. So the next move you make for 10,000, you sell for maybe 25,000, holy cow. Now the next move you make for 25,000, you sell it for 75,000, and so on, and so on, and so on till you start feeling and justifying these budgets going up, up and up. A lot of times filmmakers just don't understand that. And they'll just go and grab the biggest budget they can because they can, you know, I know a lot of filmmakers that I know right now, they're making movies for a million dollars, you know, with no stars in it, I'm like, you're never gonna make that money back, you know, or $2 million, you're never gonna make your money back. And now and sometimes that might be the end game. By the way. I know that sounds crazy. Sometimes it's a tax write off for the investor, and they just want to have the experience of making the movie and being a producer on the movie. I wish I knew these people, because I wouldn't be making movies all the time. So if anyone's out there who really doesn't want to make any money with their movie, with movie investing, please email me.

At [email protected] I'm more than happy to work with you on a project, it's going to be wonderful, we're gonna have a great time. And and you know, if you give me a million dollars, I'm gonna make probably about 10 or 15 movies with that. But if you really seriously want to make a million dollar movie, that's just the, you know, a deal breaker. Well, I'll do it if you want me to, if there's no, don't reason for us not to make our money. I'm laughing guys, because it does happen. But it's rare. But if there's anybody out there, please email me. Another thing that that will answer that question that what is your film worth is what is your distribution plan? You know, a lot of people say, Oh, I'm gonna submit to Sundance, and that's my distribution plan. You're an idiot, you don't do that. You have to actually think about how you're going to sell this movie. You know, have you spoken to the distributor? Before you made this movie to see what they're looking for? You know, many smart filmmakers have done that, that they actually go to a distributor, they go, Hey, I'm thinking about making a movie. I've got $100,000, who do I need to put in this movie to sell it? And can you Will you buy it? Or would you know somebody who would, and all of a sudden, like, Well, you know, this actor has this value this, if you get this actor, this actor and this actor, I can pre sell it overseas like that, or I can pre sell it domestically like that purely on the power of the actors. Regardless if the movie is good or not. This is the business of the film business guys. So again, depending on what your goals are, you know, you should talk to a distributor. My goals with this is Meg were very specific. So I never spoke to a distributor. I know who my market is for. This is Meg. I know how I'm gonna sell it. I know what kind of distribution plan I am creating for it. And it's you know, and if other things come into play great. If they don't, I've got a plan. And that's one thing you guys have to have as a plan. Please think about this. These are all important these questions, guys. We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. Now some people's films on the surface seem like they have no chance of making their money back. Like there's just no, no way. So like a perfect example I'm going to use is range 15, a film called range 15. I'll put a link on it in the show notes at indie film hustle.com Ford slash 120. For a range 15. They make they raised about a million dollars in a Kickstarter campaign that they did for their film. It's a zombie action movie, with some stars in it now, the stars being William Shatner, Sean Austin, and I don't know if there's, I think, Danny, I think Danny Trejo, I'm not sure. But those were the guys that they were able to get. But they were able to afford those guys purely because of their budget. But they're very specific example. And I'm really trying to get the filmmakers on the show because I, I their their story's amazing. But those guys had an audience, they own a apparel company. There is military owned, and it's aimed at military, Fire Department, police people, those kind of that kind of audience. And they've been making YouTube videos and all this kind of stuff. And they said, hey, let's go make a movie. They raised this money, because their audience was rabid, and they wanted it. And then they decided to go on and self distribute the film themselves. And they made millions, millions of dollars off of that, on the surface, you show me a movie that you have William Shatner, Sean Austin and Danny Trejo, and it costs a million dollars. And it's an action zombie movie with no other stars, these guys make basically cameos. So there's no other major stars in the main cast, I would say there's no way in hell that they'll make their money back. It's just they've lost their money. But because they understood their audience, and that they could sell to their audience. They justified that budget without a problem. So that was so smart. And so key to their success. Another example I'm going to use is one of my mentors. And one of the reasons why I started this podcast was Pat Flynn, over at Smart Passive Income comm pat, pat released the book of his he wrote a book, and he has a huge audience. I mean, he's a massive, massive audience, the man makes obscene amounts of money every, every month. And he has a very, very big podcast following. He's one of the major podcasts in the business and internet marketing category. And he went out to a bunch of distributors and said, and they said, Hey, we want to give you you know, want to release a book by you. Because, of course, you know, book distributors are no different than film distributors. They like, Oh, you have an audience. Great. It'll be easy to sell to them. We'll take it for you. We'll take it from here now. And then. And then he's like, Well, wait a minute, why am I going to give you I have access to my audience, I talked to my audience, why in god's green earth would I give you 60% or 50% of my income from this book. So he decided to self distribute it, self release it, and he's made, and you can go to his website, and you can actually see how much money he's made over the months from his launch, he's made 10s of 1000s of dollars, I think he's already broken over $100,000. For a book that he wrote himself, he created the audiobook version, he created the printed version and created the Kindle version. And he did the whole thing by himself and released it by himself. But he knew his audience, and he knew they can make more money selling to his audience than he could if he went through a distributed distribution company. So the question that we're here to answer guys is what is your film worth. So before you go down the path of making a film, and spending a year to putting it all together, raising the money, all this kind of stuff, you have to be honest with yourselves, guys. And anytime you think you like, Oh, you know what, it's a half a million. It's really probably 200,000. Even if you could justify half a million, just always go lower. Make your movie for as low of a budget as humanly possible while maintaining the production value and quality that you want. But you got to do it really low guys, because every dollar that you make less for is less money that you're gonna have to pay back. So if you made a movie or 700,000, but if you could actually make over 500,000 that's $200,000 in your pocket, once the movie makes 700,000 or 800,000 or a million dollars, that's all extra money in your pocket, guys. So do your first few movies really low budget and start experimenting, make a movie like Mark duplass says make a movie for 1000 bucks. And when you're with your friends, and then the next time and when you're done making that $1,000 movie, put it on the festivals do you put it up on Amazon Video direct and start selling it you can sell it right now you can put your movie right now on Amazon Video direct and you have it on the biggest marketplace in the world. And then you can drive everybody there and they can buy it, rent it or see it for free with prime And you get advertising revenue as well. There's multiple ways you can make money with it. And there's many other ways and I've talked about podcasts on how you multiple revenue streams, you can make four year movies as well, but make it 1000 bucks. You know, when I made my, when I made my first short film, I made it for 8000 broken, and we were able to generate over $90,000 selling DVDs Why? Because I knew my market. And even if I didn't make money on it, I knew that 1000 bucks was gonna kill me. You know, it was money out of my pocket, I wasn't have to pay it back. Just do your budgets as low as possible. But you have to ask the question, what is your film worth. And if you have certain casts involved, if you have certain genres involved, and you have certain distribution plan plans involved are in place, you can justify a higher budget, but always err on the lower side. And I'll leave you guys with one story about Robert Rodriguez. You know, Robert, as you know, is very well known for making his movies very affordably. And when he made his first movie, Spy Kids, his first family film for Spy Kids, that movie made, I think I made like 120 $340 million domestically, something like that. And he made over $22 million in the world of studio movies. $22 million is nothing now this is a while ago. So when they went to go do the sequel, they're like, Oh, we want to give you a whole bunch more. And he's like, Nope, I don't want any more. I want to do for another 22 million, I'm good. That's an amazing amount of restraint. And the man is extremely smart. Because he's like, you know what, I'm gonna make it for this money. And no, I can make it for this money, why am I going to put myself at more risk? getting another 20 million another 40 million into it, because it justified it, because he made 140 in the first one. So the studios were like, well, if we give them 60, this time, he might be able to make $200 million. Well, Robert understood that he's like, you know what, I'll make another kick ass movie for give me 22 million, I'm good. And they did. And that movie made 80 million. Now mind you 80 million still good bump, but it wasn't as much as before. And if you would have made it for 60 million, it wouldn't have been as big of a hit as it was. So then when they made the third movie, they made it for about the same money. And that one made another 100 and some million dollars. But my point is that he had the discipline at that level, to say, Nope, I don't want any more money, I can make it for this, because that's what's going to make you successful. We just had on the show, Joshua Conwell who made his first movie for $6,000. And you know, he still has not made his money back on it. And he knew what he was doing. It's a friend, it was a drama, about French speaking drama, shot entirely in Los Angeles, you know, so it's a foreign movie shot here. And it just, you know, he thought it could make some money. But at that budget level, he's like, I'll take the risk. And he didn't, he's not made his money back. Now, if he would have invested $100,000 into that movie, which a lot of filmmakers do, and found money from family from friends and all this kind of stuff. And he would have made four grand, he, I think he would have been done, he wouldn't have been able to recover from something like that, it would have been very, very difficult. But because he was able to make that movie for such a low budget that lent that because he made that movie at that price range, he got hired to do a TV show, or a Hulu show. And then that led to his next feature, and so on, and so on and so on. But he was smart enough to make his movie for a budget that he knew he could either retain he could either get his money back, or if he lost his money, it wouldn't be that big of a deal. So ask that question before you get started on this journey, guys. What is your film worth? I hope this was informative for you guys. I hope I wasn't too preachy, or too in your face, but I'm here to help guys. I want you guys to succeed. I want everybody listening to this podcast, to be able to make a living as filmmakers. In today's world, there's no excuse. This is not the 40s, the 50s or the 60s, where you had no choices. There is endless amounts of opportunity, endless amounts of resources, and these endless amounts of ways to make money with your art. And it's my job here and my my goal in life is to preach from the top of the mountain. And hopefully you guys not that I'm at the top of the mountain, but you know what I'm talking about from the highest peaks. So everyone and all the filmmakers can listen that you are able to do this, but you have to be smart about it. Have a fucking plan, like I said in Episode 88 which is still one of the most popular podcast episodes I've ever done. If you haven't listened to it, and you want some motivation. Listen to Episode 88 at indie film, hustle, calm forward slash 088. So guys, I want to wish you guys all a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, happy holidays. And I'll be with your families. Enjoy the time you have off and get ready for 2017 because I have a feeling it's going to be an interesting year, to say the least. But I think it's gonna be an amazing year. I know it's gonna be an amazing year for me. I have it all planned out. And of course, when you plan the universe laughs at You, but I do have a plan and I do think that it's going to be an amazing year for indie film hustle for the podcast, and also for myself as an artist as a businessman, and as a as a human being, and I wish you guys all the best wishes. And as always, keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you soon.

YOUTUBE VIDEO

IFH 114: The Six Stages of Character Development with Michael Hauge

Right-click here to download the MP3

This week we have a returning guest, screenwriting guru Michael Hauge. In this episode, he discussed The Six Stages of Character Development. A very eye-opening episode.

YOUTUBE VIDEO

IFH 090: Life After Winning Sundance with Diane Bell

Right-click here to download the MP3

I always talk about not counting on the “lottery ticket” mentality that so many filmmakers today count on. Winning Sundance is not a distribution plan. Well, I was involved in a project, written and directed by Diane Bell, that did just that. It won not one but two awards at Sundance. She didn’t count on winning, hell she didn’t think in her wildest dreams that she would even be accepted. Here’s the story.

In 2010, 16 feature films were selected out of 1,058 submissions to be screened in the US Dramatic Competition at the Sundance Film Festival.  Diane Bell’s OBSELIDIA was one of them.  It was made for less than $140,000, it had no movie stars in it, and none of the cast or crew had connections to Sundance.  And yet it was picked out of the slush pile, and selected to premier on this world stage, alongside movies that had cost 100 times as much with big-name movie stars and recognized directors.

OBSELIDIA premiered in the US Dramatic Competition at the Sundance Film Festival 2010, where it won the Alfred P. Sloan Award and the award for Excellence in Cinematography. It was nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards 2011, including one for Best First Screenplay. It won acclaim at festivals around the world, including being named as Best of Fest at the Edinburgh Film Festival, Best Narrative Feature at Ashland Independent Film Festival, and winning the Youth Jury Prize for Best Film at the Valladolid Festival, Spain.

Here’s what VARIETY magazine had to say about Obeslidia:

“…the only film [at Sundance] that deserves to be called a rebel”?

The Cinderella Story

It is a Cinderella story for sure. I had the pleasure to color grade and on-line edit Obselidia and it was one of the greatest times I’ve ever had working on a film. Diane Bell’s story not typical.

She started her career in film as a screenwriter and moved to LA after optioning her first script to Wind Dancer Features.  She went on to be hired to rewrite a script for legendary director John McTiernan (DIE HARD, PREDATOR, etc), and then wrote an original script with him.  She has written a number of other commissioned and optioned screenplays.

Her screenplay, STEM, was selected for the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab in January 2011, where it was awarded the Sloan Fellowship. She was selected for the inaugural Women in Film/Sundance Mentorship program in 2012.

Diane’s second feature as writer/director, BLEEDING HEART, a feminist thriller starring Jessica Biel and Zosia Mamet premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, April 2015 and was widely released in the US by Gravitas in Nov 2015.

She is currently in post-production on her third feature, OF DUST AND BONES.

With her husband and producing partner, Chris Byrne, she launched the Rebel Heart Film Workshop, teaching 2-day intensives on how to make a standout indie film. She is passionate about sharing her experiences making films to empower other filmmakers with real-life knowledge.

If you ever wanted to know what it was like to be accepted and win awards at the Sundance Film Festival sit back and enjoy on the conversation with Diane Bell.

Alex Ferrari 10:52
So I like to welcome to the show Diane Bell. Diane, thank you so much for taking the time to be on the on the hustle.

Dianne Bell 10:58
Thank you, Alex. I'm thrilled to be here.

Alex Ferrari 11:00
So as you guys might have known or not, I worked with Diane on her Sundance winning film Obsolidia many, many years ago. And it was a fun story how we actually I think you put out an ad in either Craigslist or Mandy calm and I just kind of just kind of like said, Hey, I'll do it.

Dianne Bell 11:21
Yes, and it was amazing. The minute I met you though, I knew that I wanted to work with you. And it was so great. You had such a great time. It was at work is phenomenal on it.

Alex Ferrari 11:28
Oh, thank you so much. And that was when the red was just starting out kind of like red was a still a beast.

Dianne Bell 11:35
Yes. So I guess it was like 2009 when Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 11:38
we did it was around 2009 at the UN in my spare bedroom in my townhouse. And we we knocked it out. If I remember correctly, we color that entire movie in like two days.

Dianne Bell 11:51
Yes, but as I remember you saying it had like 250 cuts and it was

Alex Ferrari 11:58
a nicely like there's it's not as Michael Bay movie by any stretch. So it was a lot easier to color it because there's like these long, beautiful Yeah, takes of the desert and just like oh, it was just it was wonderful. It was wonder a lot, a lot of fun doing putting that movie together. So but we'll get into absolutely in a little bit. But first, I wanted to ask you, how did you get into this crazy life of being a filmmaker?

Dianne Bell 12:21
Well, sometimes I feel like I became a filmmaker almost by accident. Like I think I always wanted to be a writer, you know, from when I was very young. I was all about writing. And slowly, I think it was really when I went to university, I got into films. It wasn't until then I really realized that films could be as powerful as literature up until then it was for me about books, you know. But at university, I started going to the art house cinema and I saw movies by like Bergman and Bressan. And, you know, and these really had an impact on because I was like wow, you know, films can be as rich and as you know, amazing and challenging and poetic as books. And so then I really got into films, but I don't think I ever thought I would actually directing movies still at that point. You know, it wasn't really something that I obsessed about, you know, I was still about writing. And then I wrote a screenplay. I had an idea for a movie, and it was definitely a movie. It wasn't a book. You know, at the time, I was writing a lot of short stories, and I had this idea for a movie. And so I wrote the screenplay, and that was kind of what got everything rolling because that screenplay did actually get optioned. I was living in Barcelona at the time. But it was optioned in America in LA and I came over for meetings about that and then just to to actually do the rewrite and you know I ended up staying I ended up going hard to write something else and you know, suddenly you know, year later two years later I've written however many screenplays it was making my living as a screenwriter

Alex Ferrari 13:44
that's kind of

Dianne Bell 13:46
I know and then out of that I became I reached a point where two of the projects that I've worked on it seemed like absolutely dead certain to happen I mean everything was in place It was wonderful. I was like these movies are gonna get made it's gonna be awesome and they both fell apart for reasons completely outside of my control. And then at the same time I was working I was writing you know, as a writer for hire on a horror movie I just thought What am I doing? You know, like

Alex Ferrari 14:17
I can't even imagine you writing before

Dianne Bell 14:19
it's like so sorry, I just thought you know, I'd rather be back in Barcelona you know teaching yoga and writing in my free time which is what I did before I came to LA you know then doing this that's what am I doing at that time and it sort of the writer strike happened and my husband you know, very intelligently said why don't you just take this time to write something for you again? And when I after I wrote it, he said why don't you make us and that was the first time that I really considered making something but I'd seen kind of, you know, just the okay if I try to go down the conventional path of this getting made it will it won't get made, it will never be made, you know, and so suddenly I just felt that you know, the time was, you know, right to step up, and just make myself

Alex Ferrari 15:00
so so what is what what is your writing process because I know you like you said you made your living as a writer What is your writing process

Dianne Bell 15:06
my writing process is quite simple show up every day and write I just have a basic rule like when I'm writing a script which is you know, I set myself a page target and so I say right you're gonna do four pages a day and and I hold myself to it and whether it takes an hour and then I can do other things for the rest of the day, or whether it takes me all day and sometimes it does, you know, I absolutely hold myself to my page count you know, and so I just have a thing I've learned over the years that writing really is rewriting first the first draft is the hardest you know, and it just go you've just got to you've just got to be super disciplined and just make yourself do it and give yourself permission to write the worst garbage in the world because you will we write it you know, write it as garbage and you can go back and fix it later. But my, you know, for me, because I, for a long time, one of my problems as a writer was just like, you know, that blockage of fear or, you know, like, it's not good enough. I'm not good enough.

Alex Ferrari 16:09
I completely understand. I had to get over that whole Yeah, writing While You Write thing, which was Yeah,

Dianne Bell 16:15
yeah, exactly. No, I, I absolutely do not rewrite while I write, I just have a complete thing about just keep, you know, keep moving forward, and just getting zoned. For me, rhythm is very important. I feel like, my favorite time to write is first thing in the morning. Um, you know, and I just feel like if you create a sort of ritual of, you know, that you just sit down at certain time to do it. You know, it's important, rather than waiting for waiting for inspiration or something

Alex Ferrari 16:40
for the Muse to show up. Yeah, cuz it really well.

Dianne Bell 16:43
For me, it doesn't very often, if I realized that shows she never shows when you honor, it would be once every 10 years, I'd probably sit down to write if I waited for that. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 16:52
exactly. It's, it's hard work. It's hard. It's I mean, you know, digging ditches, but you know, it's hard work, you just got to sit there. And

Dianne Bell 17:01
I have a lot of the words who is also when you're not at the computer, obviously, you know, I realized after my son was born, that, you know, like, like looking after children writing is really a nice combination. Because you know, so much of the time you just like you just you just need to think you need to wander around and do something else and be thinking about it, you know, like not always sitting in your computer trying to hammer out but just being out in the world actually looking after kids I have found and thinking at the same time about your stuff is pretty good. It's pretty good. And then finding the time to actually sit at the computer and crack on with it. For me, it's

Alex Ferrari 17:35
long drives.

Dianne Bell 17:37
Yes, yeah. I'm totally into drives and music. Yes.

Alex Ferrari 17:41
long drives, just like I'll hammer out beats of an entire script. Yeah, absolutely. During, like a nice long drive. And sometimes I'll be with my wife, and she's like, what do you do? I'm like, quiet.

Dianne Bell 17:52
Yeah, I know. I know. That's a friend of mine want to say it looks like I'm just sitting with my feet up. But actually, I'm working with every writer, you know, like, yeah, we're doing it all different times.

Alex Ferrari 18:04
So you told me a story that you as a writer was hired. I were hired to work with the legendary john McTiernan.

Dianne Bell 18:12
Yes, I was incredibly lucky. Not long after I came to America. I imagined by chance, the man who's now my husband, Chris had worked with him on a couple of his films as doing military check advice and stunt work. And so john was coming into town and my, you know, my then boyfriend now husband was meeting him for dinner and said, Do you want to come along? And I said, Sure. And so at dinner, I told him that I just optioned my first script, and he said, you know, well, who did you auction it to? And I said, Peter Samuelson, and he nearly literally fell off his chair because it turned out that he had optioned his first screenplay to Peter Samuelsson. And so and so that was like the beginning of like, the sort of connection, I think, you know. And so then he invited us out to his ranch in Wyoming. And every day that I was there, we stayed like a week, every day, he would give me another script to read. And in the evening, you know, he go, what did you think of that one, you know, and I was totally honest, like, I wasn't pitching for a job or anything. I was having a great time, you know, in this ranch in Wyoming going out horse riding and stuff and reading scripts, and, you know, noticed by God, it's terrible. I hated it. He said, Why? and say, well, that's not you know, who just like, chat away about them. And so after that week, I got I came back to LA and then just a few days later, I got a call and he said, Are you free to work? You know, would you come out here and work on a script with me? I was like, Yeah, absolutely. And it turned out and he said, which one is it? You know, all the scripts I'd read while I was there, and it was this one. That was just the worst of the worst. But then, you know, what was amazing was when I went out there and I thought, I have no idea like, damn what rewriting a script means, you know, it was like very green. I'd written one. One screenplay at this point,

Alex Ferrari 19:58
right?

Dianne Bell 20:00
What would this mean? And, you know, actually we rewrote that script from the bottom up really all we kept with the premise. And it was the most phenomenal experience. And we have to say, working with him, I really have so much respect for him as an artist. And I think he's a genius filmmaker and a storyteller. I'm working with him like everyday, we would go to this local cafe near his ranch, called the branding art. And we'd sit and just like figure out the next few scenes, and then we'd figure them we divvy them up. And basically he would write, go and write the action seems the more actually ones and I would write the more character ones. And I would collate them. He would send me his pages later in the day, and I would collate it. And I remember after we got to about, we've got about 60 pages or something. And he still hadn't read anything that I'd written. Because he was never looking at my pages. Right, right. Right. I noticed like, you know, suddenly, he's like, Oh, I need to see the whole thing up. So now, you know, like, give me the whole script that we've got, and I'm gonna read it and then let's talk. Then I was like, I gave it to him. I was so nervous. I was this like, totally, like, Oh, well, that was good. No, you who'd be sending me back to LA on the next flight. You know.

Alex Ferrari 21:14
We keep talking about john. Like, for people who don't know who john McTiernan is. He is the director of some of the greatest action movies of all time. diehard. Yes. Predator, Hunt for Red October, medicine was found affair medicine, Crown Affair. I love Thomas Crown Affair. He's a genius. I mean, yeah, I mean, I still consider diehard and predator, greatest 80s movies, if not action movies in general.

Dianne Bell 21:41
I know. And when you know him, like you just like, I don't know, like, he is like those are so his movies. I mean, the French really recognize them as like an O tour. And rightly so because it's really he there's a very particular personality, you know, yes. This is a funny thing that he told me about Die Hard. Because what we did with the script we were writing, and it was kind of it was a it was about a it was a terrorist action, sort of thriller. And he kept saying, It's Frankenstein, it's Frankenstein. And we would go back to actually the novel of Frankenstein. We both we read it, and we would discuss it almost every day. And it was almost like, well, what happens in Frankenstein, and that was sort of inform us about where our script was going. And he said about this really fast me but the diehard, he said the movie, the story he felt it was underneath was A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. And then when he was working on because he said, you know, and it's really fascinating, because he said, I really thought it was a comedy, you know, and I think the original script that he was given, it wasn't a comedy. Do you know what I mean? a comedy, you know, but he really saw is this night in which everything gets turned upside down. But in the end, the lovers are reunited, which I thought was really interesting. That's part of genius, I think, if you can is genius. Yes. You know, like that sort of, like sense of the underlying story. You know, I think that can help all writers in their work. It certainly helped me, you know, what is the underlying story that you're telling?

Alex Ferrari 23:09
I mean, you look at diehard and I mean, he made I mean, he launched Bruce Willis his career off that film and Bruce is so funny that I mean, they mean Tomic it's launched another four sequels, some that should have ever been made. But But, you know, five sequels I think, at this point, and another six of them this

Dianne Bell 23:28
is that tone, isn't it? That was so unique and so I liked

Alex Ferrari 23:32
his the best. I liked one and I like three, you know, and it was Sam Jackson when he did that one as well. Yeah. But But yeah, john. Yeah. When you told me that story, I've just such a big fan of his so it was it was interesting to see how how he works.

Dianne Bell 23:46
Yeah, is I mean, as a working with him was amazing. And, you know, I hope he makes another film soon because this the weird thing in our industry, you know, like, he obviously hasn't made a film for quite a long time now. And had some legal troubles and spent some time in prison and so forth. But paid his dues. And I just think, you know, how can we let people like him who, you know, not make

Alex Ferrari 24:12
films, like when Orson Welles was alive, like, you know, exactly arrested? Exactly, and it just

Dianne Bell 24:17
like it just, it just boggles my mind and freaks me out. Because I just feel like there's so many, you know, just incredibly talented filmmakers who cannot get money to make films now, and it just drives me nuts. Yes,

Alex Ferrari 24:31
we'll get into we'll get into inspiring filmmakers later in the interview. Yeah. So let's talk about obsolete yet, which is one of the most, and I've said this publicly many times. It's one of the proudest things I've ever worked on, in any capacity. Yeah. And it's from it comes from you and Chris down, because it was such a pleasure working with you guys. And we've maintained our friendship over the years and it was just such an experience and Then the whole fairy tale of that movie, which we're going to go into was so amazing to sit and watch. Yes, you were in the carriage. I was outside watching it as

Dianne Bell 25:10
it right yeah. That's ridiculous.

Alex Ferrari 25:14
No, but in a good way in a good and a bad way, in a good way. Okay, maybe I was like I was I wasn't I was being pulled along in the back. Perfect. Yeah, but we were all it was such a wonderful experience watching that. So first of all, what so I guess the the project you were talking about the beginning of the of the interview was obsolete, right? The one they just like, hey, let's just go make something.

Dianne Bell 25:33
Absolutely, yes. Yeah, I wrote it during the writers strike. And when I got when I finished it, I just went, you know, like, I looked at the script. And I thought, This is such a strange script and the way that it develops in the way that I'd written it. I can't really imagine handing it over somebody else to direct even though I'd never directed anything before I'd never even directed a short before. You know, like it just felt like such a quirky. I don't know it, you know, such an old

Alex Ferrari 25:58
joke. Can you tell what the story real quick, though?

Dianne Bell 26:01
Sure. So it's about a guy who's writing an encyclopedia of obsolete things. And he's obsessed with, you know, this idea that everything good is becoming obsolete and extincted he meets a young woman who is a cinema projection as she works at a silent movie theater. And together, they end up traveling out to the desert to meet a scientist who's predicting the imminent end of the world. So it was a kind of, I mean, it's a meditation on climate change and loss, and, you know, the extinction of species and how we live with all that.

Alex Ferrari 26:34
It's actually quite uplifting, though.

Dianne Bell 26:37
Some people say, it's still

Alex Ferrari 26:39
quite uplifting and humorous moments.

Dianne Bell 26:43
Yes, no, absolutely. And it's funny cuz I just re watched it the other week, I hadn't seen it for a long time. And the Colorado women film asked if they could show it in their festival. And I went along to and I hadn't seen I haven't watched it in five years or something. And actually, you know, it's like, it's weird elves. I made the film as my film. But, you know, it actually moved me to tears. I was surprised to find myself like, five years later, I was like, there's a lot of things that I would do differently. But also, you know, there's, you know, it's a very earnest film it, you know, yes.

Alex Ferrari 27:19
And it is as close to an expression of who you are as a person that I've ever seen. I mean, you are, your stank is all over that movie.

Dianne Bell 27:29
Absolutely. Absolutely. I it feels like, you know, I mean, it's so hard. That's why I mean, that's why I mean, no one else could direct it, you know, it's like, I know that anyone else there actually would have changed in something completely different. You know, that thing, we just go. And I been through the process of attaching directors to projects, that very disheartening thing for a writer when, you know, you start the meeting with a potential director, and they're like, I love your script. And then an hour later, after they've told you all the things they really like, what did you love about the title? Yes. Director has to make it their film. You know, I get that, you know, but that's why we absolutely I, you know, I, I was totally clear that I didn't want to give it away and, you know, felt confident that I was the best person for the job, even though I had zero experience as a director.

Alex Ferrari 28:18
Yeah, I remember when you came to me, you're like, yeah, this is my first one. Like, have you ever gotten anything? He's like, No, I'm like, Okay. Like, I was like, All right, let's see how this I mean, it's so weird, because you're you were one of, you know, many other films I did that year, and there was nothing other than the beauty of it. And you and you guys, but you know, it's, you know, it could have could have been one of the other many films that I've worked on one as a first time director, and you look at it go, Oh, God. Yeah. But it was, it was so wonderful. And I had such a ball doing it. And it was just such a wonderful, and I can't say it.

Dianne Bell 28:54
Yeah. For us, it was for all of us making it to I think, because we made it in a spirit of like, you know, it was very pure, you know, it wasn't, you know, we didn't have massive ambitions for the film, we were thinking we're gonna get into Sundance. No, of course, we didn't think and you'd be insane to think you are. Right, like, because the odds are so stacked against you with all those kinds, you know, with all those things? I mean, it's, you know, it was we just made that film to make the film. We didn't make it for any other reason. We further our careers, we didn't make it to, you know, to get famous or do anything. We just made it to make the best film we could and that was it.

Alex Ferrari 29:33
I'll tell you what, I work at least on one or two projects every year that the director goes, Oh, we're getting into Sundance with this. So there is that madness out there without question. Yeah,

Dianne Bell 29:43
I mean, I don't know what the statistics are, but it's

Alex Ferrari 29:47
it like I could tell them to you it's pretty it's pretty staggering to say the truth. Yeah, like 10,000 submissions and 13 films. Yeah, yeah. So now how did you finance it because it wasn't like a deal. DIY movie, it was a little bit of a budget. We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Dianne Bell 30:15
Our total budget in the end, I think was $140,000. Now it was in 2009. So it was right after,

Alex Ferrari 30:24
right after financial crisis, highly a

Dianne Bell 30:26
big budget. But, you know, but though, you know, we didn't crowdfund I think I would crowdfund, if I were doing it. If I was making a movie. Now, I totally would crowdfund entertainment, crowdfunding still seems a little bit iffy. To me, it seemed like a little bit like begging to friends or something. And I just, I didn't want to do that. The money came from a couple of different sources. We started out with the financier, a producer, that I had written a script for the horror script that I mentioned.

Alex Ferrari 30:54
By the way, I would actually love to read a horse script that you wrote. After

Dianne Bell 31:01
you pass it on to you, it wasn't you know, I think I gave it something, you know, I think there's like some character. But yeah, so it came from private equity sources, all the finance came from private equity sources, you know, and the people put it together from Yeah, you know, from a few different sources. Yeah. Now, what

Alex Ferrari 31:24
was the biggest lesson you learned in the making of that movie? What? What lesson stands out?

Dianne Bell 31:30
Oh, gosh, I mean, I just learned so many. I think the biggest I mean, there's like different kinds of lessons, but probably the biggest one, and my biggest takeaway is that thing about, like, following your heart and trusting your instincts. Okay? You know, I think like, if you really, and it's not always easy to do, but if you can really trust your own instincts, when you're making a film, I think you'll make a much better one than if you don't trust them. If you second guessed yourself cost? Absolutely, absolutely. Or if you second guess the audience or if you second guess, you know, try to second guess anything, you know, and it's not always easy, because there's so much, you know, like, I think one of the joys of making a film like ability, it was like, there was no pressure because I didn't think we would ever be seen anywhere. So, you know, and it was a small amount of money, it's a significant amount of money, but it's not also like it's not such a, an amount that you know, it's going to kill you or your investors, if it doesn't make them money. You know, so there was just like, no pressure, and you know, and then you just kept in this really beautiful, free creative zone, you know,

Alex Ferrari 32:35
yeah, I feel that I feel that way right now, making my way. I'm completely there's no pressure. It's funny, it's just kind of wonder and you don't have

Dianne Bell 32:42
to answer any, to anyone you know, like other than your own instinct, you know, or justify it. And, you know, and I think I honestly just think as artists like we will make our best work when we work that way, you know,

Alex Ferrari 32:54
and if we can create the circumstances to be able to work that yes, absolutely. Is is obviously ideal. No, I do remember easy. No, no, not easy at all. I do remember the the rush to get our final output because I was your colors and your online editors. I was outputting everything for you as well, I remember. And it was the last day that you could submit to Sundance on the air, I actually was burning the DVD and handed it over to Chris and Chris literally drove it down to the office. Yes. And handed to them before five o'clock that his motor scooter motor scooter handed it in. So all this all this kind of BS where people are like, Oh, you've got to you got to get early, you got better chances, or you got to do this or do that there is no rhyme or reason. It's about the work. I think so and also about the timing. Because, yes, you're telling me that like that was the year that a film like obsolete? Would I would get in? Yes.

Dianne Bell 33:57
That was the year that you know, john Cooper had taken over and that they had to say that there's you know, there's a big theme was rebel and their whole idea for Sundance that year was the going back to our roots. And you know, like real Indies,

Alex Ferrari 34:09
you know, you know, Steve Carell Indies.

Dianne Bell 34:12
Exactly, not like what we've been seeing the last few times, but you know, like, I understand they have different pressures and sponsors. And, you know, they have a whole thing that they have to deal with. But

Alex Ferrari 34:26
they've got sponsors, they got to put asses in seats, and they've got that I can only imagine the kind of pressure that's on Sunday, we were

Dianne Bell 34:32
very lucky that the year that we submitted it, they were, I think looking for some of those films. And I think you told

Alex Ferrari 34:39
me like the year before, would have probably not gotten it go, and maybe a couple years later, probably wouldn't have gotten that magical moment where the right product showed up at the right time at the right place.

Dianne Bell 34:50
Yeah. And that's something you can't control. And this is the thing that I say to everyone who's making films like you cannot control there's so much that you can't control. You cannot control how critics perceive your film. You can And control our audiences Do you can't control you know the market forces that are at play you know like all you can do really is make sure that you're making the film you want to make making the film that you want to see making the film that you love you know like the rest is honestly I just goes for the birds you just don't control it

Alex Ferrari 35:18
you know control is what you can control which is the movie

Dianne Bell 35:20
absolutely and which is why don't even know if you can control your situation. Yes, you know, it's like you can just do the best you can try to make the film that you want to make, you know, and then you just and then you and then live with it.

Alex Ferrari 35:35
So you get a call from Sundance. How is that? How did that work out?

Dianne Bell 35:40
Oh my god. I mean, I was actually I was out at john McTiernan his ranch when I got the call and we were working on a different script a really incredible script in original one of his about the Nez Perce Indians. And I'd been there for a while now his branches like his remote You know, when I'm out there working with him, I'm living in my own house on the ranch, like I'm, you know, and you like, you hardly see anyone it's quite like Wyoming is quite gloomy, you know, can be, I definitely like sort of hit my wall of being in Wyoming, I think, you know, that point of which I just want to see other people and eat sushi. And you know, just hit that little wall. And I was feeling you know, I just also was feeling suddenly depressed about obsah, Lydia. And I really remember that it was very strange, because up until that this night, I always be like, Oh, we made the film we want to make I'm so proud of it. And I love it, and who knows what will happen with it, but we had this great time. And then that night, I just had this, like, I just a dark night, you know, they creep up on us, I guess all of us. And I just suddenly had this night where I was like, shit, man, like, that was probably the only movie I'll ever get to make in my life. And I probably have screwed it up. You know, like, I didn't listen to the conventional wisdom at any step of the way. And I did everything my own way. And maybe, just maybe this is just a complete disaster, and I'm a complete disaster, you know, like, like that kind of night. And the next morning, I got an email from Sundance, and they said, We'd like to talk to you today. Is this the best number? You know?

Alex Ferrari 37:15
Yeah, yes. Yeah.

Dianne Bell 37:18
I immediately emailed Chris, my husband, because I was, you know, why don't we by myself and also Matt, the producer of obsidian. And I, you know, it's like, hey, sometimes wants to talk to me today. It's probably just to say, like, well done. Good luck next time.

Alex Ferrari 37:34
I really did think that it'll call for that. Yeah.

Dianne Bell 37:37
Like, you know, like, it couldn't possibly be, you know, and I think it was just a weird the timing of acts as I say, you know, it was one time that I'd had that doubt, you know, and then and then I got the call and to be honest, I was so emotional when I when course it was Sherry Friel I was like, because it was so unexpected. I mean, it was so unexpected, you know, and I just remember, like, I was literally like, me, I was solving Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 38:04
of course, I mean, I remember you, I think you the texted me or email me or call me, like, within your after, like, within a day of you getting it you think you everybody that was involved in a movie? And I was like, No. Yeah, no, no way.

Dianne Bell 38:22
Well, I think is it I think like for all of us, as artists, you know, like, you work away, you work away. And with very little expectations, you know, somewhere inside you, you dream about, you know, getting certain kinds of recognitions or something, you know, like something breaking through in some sort of way. But also part of you believes it never happened. I mean, I don't know if I speak for everyone, but I am certainly saying what I feel generally, you know, but you just start thinking, Okay, maybe I'm just maybe it's my fate as an artist, just to like, toil away, and, you know, for now, nothing ever to get any, any traction or ever to get through, you know, right. And it's possible, you know, and I think as an artist, you have to sign up for that, you know, like, I think if you don't, if you do it with expectations, you're sort of going to you could you end up being suicidal, you know, I mean, you just have to know that, like, I love being an artist, I love what I do, and I'm doing it to do it. And if anything else comes of it great. And if it doesn't, I can, you know, that's fine, because this is my path in life, you know, but when you suddenly get some kind of, you know, like, it's It was amazing, and I'm still just so grateful for that experience, you know,

Alex Ferrari 39:31
so tell us a little bit about the experience cuz I remember you invited everybody, to Sundance with you. Yeah. And I, one of the dumbest movies of my life is not going with because I'd been to Sundance probably four or five times prior, never being in the movie in the first visit. And after the whole experience, like I watched the ceremony and stuff online ly and I'm sitting there going, What an idiot. I can't believe I did not Take advantage.

Dianne Bell 40:00
He shouldn't be with us.

Alex Ferrari 40:03
So please, just in a nutshell, tell us how that experience of actually being in the festival is like well how do they treat you? What is the what is this kind of like, you know, Cinderella story.

Dianne Bell 40:15
I mean it really is amazing it's like a dream if you're a filmmaker so have a film there. It's, you know it. It's incredible. We we did invite everyone like so all our cast and crew came like everybody know, everybody,

Alex Ferrari 40:27
except for you. The sound guy, the PA. I mean, everybody was at that house.

Dianne Bell 40:32
Yes, I was booked on I was

Alex Ferrari 40:33
there music videos, do we and I couldn't get out of it. And I'm like, Oh, I should have just

Dianne Bell 40:40
I know cuz it was just lovely. Everyone stayed in this house that we rented. And, you know, everybody went to every screening and came up afterwards. And like our gaffer said he was like, you know, ever, like, all these different movies. I've never had anything like that, you know, like, because get everybody up on the stage after every single screening. Sure. I'll be honest with y'all, and I think I've told you this before. The premiere of The film was awful. Like, I had never watched our film, your screen was the biggest screen I'd ever seen it on. You know, it

Alex Ferrari 41:09
was not what Yeah, how the 720 p 38.

Dianne Bell 41:13
A and suddenly, you know, like, We're going into the premiere and it's like, it was at the the Racquet Club or something. I don't I'm not sure if it was one of the

Alex Ferrari 41:21
smaller Yeah, one of the other screens, right? It wasn't, it wasn't at the Egyptian or at the

Dianne Bell 41:25
it wasn't at the echos is much bigger than the Egyptian No, it's like, you know, it's like, 750 800 Yeah, yeah. Oh. And I just suddenly, like, I started, like, seeing all these people queuing up coming in the movie, I'm sold out and everything, and I was just feeling sick, you know? And then they, you know, like, I think it was Trevor Grossman, who introduced I'm not sure. And he said, like, I have to go up and say something for the movie. And I'm just sort of like, I'm shitting myself, like, I'm like, you know, are you serious, I'm not a public speaker. I don't want to get up in front of these people. And you know, and then actually watching the movie, I was like, literally in pain, you know, my neck was, I mean, I was just like, seizing up, really. And it was kind of like, you know, your child is doing a dance on a stage and you just feel everyone's got their knives out and stab over. So

Alex Ferrari 42:12
you're putting yourself out there in a big way. It was

Dianne Bell 42:15
awful. And I was I was in so much pain. And afterwards, I just went and got drunk, you know, with all our crew. Like, I don't know, I just couldn't really deal with it. And so then the next morning, I woke up, and I just, I didn't really know what to do, but I googled the movie, you know, to see if anyone had written anything about it. And obviously obsolete. Yeah, it's a word that I made up. So anything you know about it would come up immediately. Right. And, you know, the first thing I read in it's kind of tattooed on my heart was, someone had written on a blog. Absolutely a compendium of indie cliches. Oh, I remember you. Oh, yeah. And I read this review. And they just, I mean, they were nasty. They were they weren't just it wasn't like, it wasn't a review of the film. It was like a nasty outpouring, you know, that they even sort of like insulted me, it was kind of like, it was just like, weird, you know, to read this because you make a film, you make it with such good heart and such good intentions, and it's so pure to you. And, you know, like reading that I just like, I mean, it killed me. I was really into Chris, like, I think I just want to go home. I don't think I want to stay here. Like, I didn't sign up for this. I don't I don't want this, you know, like, like, I hadn't prepared myself for it. I thought it most people would be like, the film was boring. You know?

Alex Ferrari 43:34
Like, I thought that would be like the worst critics not like, and she's ugly to let

Dianne Bell 43:40
you know, and like, most pretentious this and this woman. Jeez, do whoever she is she does she is like what I mean really is shocking. Oh, yeah. And so you know, luckily, that day was the directors brunch. And what happens at Sundance is that all the directors are invited out to this brunch that's hosted by Robert Redford and no one else is allowed to go no producers, no actors, no agents are managed, like nobody, and all the directors get on these buses and go out to the actual Sundance resort and go to this brunch with Robert Redford. And it's amazing. And like so I thought, I'm gonna go to the brunch and then I'm going back to LA.

Alex Ferrari 44:20
Who was you told me who's on the bus with you? Well, this

Dianne Bell 44:22
was amazing. So this is this thing because, you know, obviously it was in the dramatic us dramatic narrative feature competition. And so all those dragons sort of found each other and two of the other directors that you remarked Buffalo and Derrick cm France, I think as high parents who say, they said to me, they were like, Oh, so which movie did you direct? And I said, Absolutely. But I don't know if you want to watch it because apparently, you know, compendium of Indian cliches and they when you read your present Mark Russell put his arm around he was like she did not read the press did not read it right. And and the two of them were just like they were so amazing. You know, and they were just like, they were Who did you make this movie for? What's it about? I mean, those guys who write these things they don't they don't put themselves out this way telling you listen to that, you know, so you

Alex Ferrari 45:09
basically have the Hulk giving you therapy.

Dianne Bell 45:11
I know. This is before he was the Hulk. Basically, but they were so great. I was just like, Oh my God, you're so right. And I thought, I'm thinking about leaving this party. Are you kidding me? Like I have got a ticket to this amazing party to hang out with people like this real artists. And there's no way I'm leaving, you know, and after that, I just changed my tune. I was just like, I'm not reading any more press. I'm just gonna completely enjoy the festival. You know, this is like, a dream come true. And I and I'm just gonna enjoy it. And haters gonna hate man haters gonna hate

Alex Ferrari 45:46
hate, they're gonna drink their haterade and just

Dianne Bell 45:50
too bad for them. You know, that's it, you

Alex Ferrari 45:52
know, like, I just I just did a whole podcast on haters, and how filmmakers should handle it. And it was a great quote that says, The lion does not lose sleep over the opinion of a sheep.

Dianne Bell 46:02
Yes, absolutely. And it's wonderful, wonderful. He just sort of like Look, you're not you're never gonna please any you know, everyone. No, like, it's never gonna happen, especially nowadays, when there's so many people on social media who you know, want to just make e? Yes, exactly. You know, and it's like, so don't worry about it. Just make what you want to make. And you

Alex Ferrari 46:22
do. Yeah, you just do you. So now so. So you go on this the Cinderella ride at Sundance, and you don't win one, you went to awards, and one of them is a cash award, which is the only cash.

Dianne Bell 46:36
I know, we didn't even know it existed until

Alex Ferrari 46:38
we go there when you get a check what I get paid for this. Yeah,

Dianne Bell 46:42
that was amazing. That was one just for the record as the Alfred P. Sloan award, yes. And which is given to film that has science or technology as a theme minute. And they also they have a p Sloan Foundation. Because after that, I ended up going to the Sundance screenwriters lab The following year, with a different project and I was a Sloan fellow it it did also have a science theme, and they gave me money for that to a grant for that. And the Sloan Foundation are for it. They're just phenomenal. If you you know, if you're a filmmaker who is a total working in that sort of like, you know, it's not they're not about science fiction, it's really about like science or technology. But movies, like the social network would fall under their sort of like domain, that's technology, you know, but they're interested in all kinds of projects, and they really do support filmmakers making those films. And I didn't know about them until I got to Sundance, but subsequently, you know, I've learned about them, and they as they've supported another project of mine, and they're just amazing. You know, if you have a project that is sort of connected with science in any way, that definitely worth checking out.

Alex Ferrari 47:52
Yeah. And you also won Best Cinematography,

Dianne Bell 47:55
which is, and that was like, I mean, that was a total surprise, you know, because obviously, we were in competition, you know, against films that had big budgets, yes. 10 times their budget 20 times our budget

Alex Ferrari 48:10
much better colors.

Dianne Bell 48:13
Apparently, oh. I mean, for exact Mulligan as well as didn't have a total

Alex Ferrari 48:19
he was, he was great. He gave me wonderful meat to cook. Yeah.

Dianne Bell 48:23
And that was like his first that was his, you know, first feature film. So that was not a bad start for him.

Alex Ferrari 48:30
You know, it wasn't a bad start for any of anybody.

Dianne Bell 48:33
Like he's just show Eva do bearnaise pilot and you know, and he's, you know, he works all the time. He does great stuff.

Alex Ferrari 48:41
So yeah. So after Sundance, now this magical ride is over. And absolutely, it doesn't get a distribution deal off the off now. So tell people a little bit of because there's a big myth that says like, Oh, you go to Sundance you when you just write checks, they just write you a check. And that's just often you living in a mansion somewhere in the hills. Yeah. I've always tried to tell people No, that's not the way it goes. And and for better or worse is is an example of that. Like, you didn't get a dish and I'm not most films don't get distribution. Now,

Dianne Bell 49:11
most don't end up with a film like obscene Lydia. If I was in that position. Again, you know, I would have done things differently. Before we went to Sundance, I feel like, you know, we went down. Once we got the news that we were in Sundance, we went down to sort of conventional route, we looked up, you know, we googled What do we do? And

Alex Ferrari 49:31
what do you do when you go to Sundance

Dianne Bell 49:33
and we sort of did what we were supposed to do, you know, we go to sales agent on board and, you know, but probably not the right one to some extent, and, you know, but we didn't even know what we were doing, you know, and we did sort of harbor some hope that we would sell the film there. Now in hindsight, you know, with what I've sort of learned about film distribution, so I don't, I think now I would be making my plans to distribute the film myself before Sundance, you know, and use absolute Like to distribute a movie. Because it's such a just like what I'm saying about why no one else could direct it is such a quirky odd movie is the same reason why no distributor wanted to touch it. Because, you know, it's like it's a lot of work to distribute a movie like that that has no stars. And that doesn't have an obvious template to follow it's you know, it's not a particular genre. It's, it's something very unique. And, you know, I think distributors are just basically quite lazy. They just want things or

Alex Ferrari 50:28
something easy to pop a star on when Yes. Which brings me to another thing I forgot to ask you this. But you were approached by a television star to star in the movie, if I remember correctly, right? That is correct. And you and there was there was a little bit of stuff involved there that you chose against going with a face? Yes, I did. Everybody's wishes apparent, yes.

Dianne Bell 50:51
Against all conventional wisdom, and that was one of the things that later I was like, oh, maybe I was really stupid, you know. But at the time, because also this the television star in question. She also, you know, her manager said it could raise a lot more money for the film to fund it. So it would have been a higher budget and so forth. More everything, right. But it goes into that thing of like trusting your instincts and following your heart. And, you know, I was really, I really, you know, at that point, I just realized I really wanted gainer, who's one of my oldest best friends to be in the movie. You know, she's

Alex Ferrari 51:25
one absolutely wonderful.

Dianne Bell 51:27
Yes. And, you know, and it was like, you know, in conventional wisdom, it's not wise, you know, of course, you go with the bigger star, you know, but I don't think the film would have been, would have had the success it did or be as beautiful and sweet. Had we gone down a different route is that thing like, I remember one of the Sundance programmers said to me, when I first met him, he said, we see so many films, he said, you can just feel people make decisions for different, you know, like to try to impress, or, you know, because they think this act is popular, or that song or this music, and he goes your film, you can just tell us pure love, like every decision is being made out of love. And, you know, that sounds really corny, but it was actually true. No,

Alex Ferrari 52:07
it came out good place. It didn't come from a fake place. Yes.

Dianne Bell 52:11
And you know, and I think when you start doing that, like if you're casting people, just with an idea how many Twitter followers they have, you know, if

Alex Ferrari 52:19
those kinds of movies there are those kind of movies when you're designing those kind of movies, but this was definitely not one of them.

Dianne Bell 52:25
No, absolutely, absolutely.

Alex Ferrari 52:27
So how was the festival run? Oh, absolutely. After Sundance,

Dianne Bell 52:31
it was so great. You know, like, it was such a great experience. Because after Sundance, we were invited to a lot of festivals. And it was great. We never had to submit again. But we played you know, that numerous festivals, both in America and around the world. And through that, you know, it was just like, it was a great experience. Again, it's my first film, I don't know that I would ever commit so much time again to sort of like going to a festival I don't know, you know, but at that time, it just, it was great. And it was a really big learning experience to on so many fronts, I feel like I've met so many other filmmakers got to learn so much about you know, independent film and how it works. And, you know, also the festivals themselves, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Yeah, just just across the board, it was, you know, I, I encourage filmmaker, all filmmakers to go to as many film festivals as they can, because I just feel you know, there's just something wonderful about it. We were talking before about like community for filmmakers. And you know, that's where the community gathers to great extent, you know, and, and that's just and it's wonderful, and they're really awesome, just amazing film festivals. That nourish you as a filmmaker,

Alex Ferrari 53:43
you know, being at Sundance I mean, I mean, I know it's a little bit it's kind of like a carnival you know, yeah, show at this point. Yeah, with all the with all it's gotten worse since 2010. But I mean, the whole corporate everything, but if you cut through all of that the actual community and the filmmakers and stuff I've met some amazing people there. It's amazing

Dianne Bell 54:05
and, and so many other festivals that I went to after that too, you know, one that springs to mind that I absolutely love is called Ashland, independent professors talk about Ashlyn Yeah, I just love it I've been back there so many times I just love what they do. I feel like there's Sundance without all the hoopla you know? Just where they're

Alex Ferrari 54:23
in Oregon right?

Dianne Bell 54:24
Yes in Oregon great audiences is great films you know they treat they just everything is just It's so inspiring when you go there you always see amazing films connect with amazing filmmakers. You know, it's exactly say it's nourishment for a filmmaker, I think to to find the festivals where they belong.

Alex Ferrari 54:42
So did you you did sell a little bit you did make some money with absolutely because I remember you said you said you sold it to the airlines for a little bit of money.

Dianne Bell 54:49
We did. And that's a funny thing that you never think of but we got money for? Yes, like, so we sold it to a company that that took the rights for both air airlines and shipping shipping rates so like so because you get cruises yes cruise ships and and that was our biggest cash deal and then other than that we you know we went down the route it was kind of like self distribution but we did it far too late you know really from your when the film premiered at Sundance when we actually started pushing out and to be honest it's one of those things that you learn like we'd all run out of steam with it you know like a year later when we were actually distributing it and it was going out on iTunes and Amazon and then on Netflix and everything you know, we had all just we all moved on to other things you know, it'd been great and so fulfilled us and we were all busy with other things and there was nobody really sort of like pushing it into animating you know, which is that thing that I you know, the idea of a producer of marketing and distribution you know, is I think such an important one for indie filmmakers and you know, if you're making a film it's just so crucial to think before you make it you know before you even start shooting it how you're going to get it out to people you know,

Alex Ferrari 56:07
oh no, I preach that muscle all the time.

Dianne Bell 56:11
Like Don't you know don't wait like not having a plan you know or thinking that you're going to go to festivals and then sell it you know that like like that model three ticket stuff is lottery ticket you know, that's a fantasy you know, and it might happen and that's wonderful as if it was wonderful that happens but it's it's like it is saying my business plan is to win the lottery.

Alex Ferrari 56:31
Exactly. It's like what they say now is I heard a great a great comment the other day, Millennials all millennials think they're going to be millionaires by 30 but I have no idea how they're going to get there Yeah.

Dianne Bell 56:46
lesson is films you know because the brutal reality is there's so much out there now you know, and yes, so much choice for people and it's really really hard You know, but if you're going to take the time to make a film and you're going to put all that effort into it you should really do the same amount of effort into getting it out there really feel that and we didn't do that with video like I'm you know, happy to admit we totally dropped the ball in a in a you know, in a very big way after Sundance.

Alex Ferrari 57:16
So you are right now currently still self distributing. Absolutely All right.

Dianne Bell 57:21
Yes, it's available on Vimeo I think it's also available on Amazon you know we do you know one nice thing is that we've retained the digital we are we've retained all the rights to it you know and so I always feel like you know, it's funny watching again recently I thought that film has still not been seen by so many people who would love it

Alex Ferrari 57:41
you know, still needs to be distributed Yeah,

Dianne Bell 57:43
it's still there's still room for it to grow you know there's a market out there for it which has not been tapped you know, and I it's but we saw the rise to it, so it's good. Yeah, I feel so you need to

Alex Ferrari 57:53
make your your big Marvel horror movie.

Dianne Bell 57:55
Exactly. Exactly. You're telling the 10 year anniversary of Absolutely. I'll plan something for you know,

Alex Ferrari 58:02
exactly. So your next movie, which which starred Jessica Biel is called bleeding heart. Can you tell us a little bit about your unique experience on that movie?

Dianne Bell 58:14
So that one you know was a much more conventional film you know, like immediately after ops Lydia I did write another one that that as I said went to Sundance screenwriters lab with and I was getting ready sort of geared up to make that when I found out I was pregnant and then I ended up taking time out to have my baby which is just a pure joy and after having my baby boy I while while he was very little just for myself I started writing this new script which is what became bleeding heart at the time had a different title. And when he was maybe three months old or something and I was just writing it purely for myself I I went and pitched it to accom I went for a company I went to a meeting that was about something else completely and I just mentioned it at the end and they said we love the sound of this and you know within a week we had a We had a deal you know so that's crazy I know and so I wrote so I wrote that script and then afterwards you know and it was just funny we finished make we know we finished the script which took about a year and then but you know so it was written in a more conventional way because there was a production company involved you know, in their notes so it wasn't like that sort of like totally pure experience creative experience you know. And then when we when I finished the first finished a draft that they were happy with and we were gonna go out with it. This company super crispy read it, they had done like crazy and different things. And I knew the producers for I've met them through our experience at Sundance, they were at Sundance at the same time as us with a film called douchebag. And so they heard that I was reading any scripts and you know, said Oh, can we read it and they read it and they wanted to finance the film. You know, so we all happened very sort of like once that happened, it happened very fast. Like I think you know from I was then shooting the film, my son was like 15 months old when we were shooting it. So I mean for three months, so it took a year basically from when I first pitched it to when we were shooting it.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:14
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Dianne Bell 1:00:26
And super crispy are terrific, you know, but the experience for me was not a great one. Okay, we've talked

Alex Ferrari 1:00:33
we've talked we've talked at nauseam about it.

Dianne Bell 1:00:36
Yeah, we've talked about it, you know, it's one of those things and it's a learning lesson, you know, you know, in my heart and it is no disparagement to people made the film with because they're terrific producers and their record shows that you know, they've made great films, but I don't think we were the right personalities to work together. And it's a very curious thing and I'm always saying to people, and I'd heard it myself, you know, like, if you're a writer, director or director, you know, like your producers you need you're gonna it's like you get married to them and you have a baby together and the film is the baby You know, and if it doesn't feel right, the beginning is not going to get better.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:12
Right? Well we're gonna stay together because we're gonna we're pregnant.

Dianne Bell 1:01:16
No, no, no. Yeah, now you have to see it through and it's you know, if it's not right, and I think you know, I just think I don't know it was a very it was a difficult experience for me. You know, I didn't feel a lot of the time that I was making the film that I wanted to make you know, and that's very challenging. You know, there's many things about the film The final film that I really love, and I'm very proud of it overall. I think the actors were phenomenal in it. But it was just it was a very difficult experience for me personally, you know, it was very difficult it was just a

Alex Ferrari 1:01:47
mismatch of personalities and it's not Yeah, it's not anyone's fault.

Dianne Bell 1:01:51
Exactly, you know, and it's that thing just like and some people are just not meant to be married you know, right and we had just it was just a really really tough experience for me and it took a lot out of me like I definitely at a certain point during that process you know, because after we shot the film we didn't last picture we edited for over a year oh my god yes. With a lot of disputes about the shape that the film should take and and we cut it and we cut it and we cut it Nick I can't even tell you how many times and you know like a certain point during that process. I mean, I was I was depressed I mean I was just like and I was really like I never want to make another movie like it's just not worth it to me if this is what it is I don't care I don't want to do it. Because for me that thing of like you know fighting every day it's not like it's just it life's too short. Life is far too short Yeah, you know and like I just you know, I want to be creative and and this is you know, it's it's not it's not easy you know when making making films is not easy there's especially there's a lot of money involved you know, and then obviously finance you still have to they have to protect their investment and different visions of things come up they can just be very very tough and for me out of that experience you know, I finally did come through it because I I would think back jobs Lydia and think all but you know, we had so much fun and we made something really unique and I started thinking about that process like in with my second film I felt like so many decisions were made out of fear you know, like I felt like you know, I feel like so often it was kind of like you know, the script was changed in the film The Edit was changed because you know, it's like fear that it's too risky there's too This or it's too that or you'll alienate people you won't you know, and I just feel like God dammit I go this is why we have so many minutes you know, mediocre indie films because people are scared to take any risks. I know and actually indie films their strength is taking risks in a place

Alex Ferrari 1:03:59
you're good at risk with the $200 million tentpoles for

Dianne Bell 1:04:03
makes indie films great like that's the ones that stand out for us they take all the risks you know when you think like the history of independent films

Alex Ferrari 1:04:13
very secret let's see videotape

Dianne Bell 1:04:17
of the Southern wild

Alex Ferrari 1:04:18
I don't geez like these people are taking right

Dianne Bell 1:04:21
yes and push it you know, like like push it out there. And I just felt like you know, like everything I don't know yeah, this is why so many of them are just quite rubbish and there's a lot to be said for indie films like you know, if you can maintain creative control it's a very important thing I think you know, and make you want to make you know, because as I said before, like I feel like if you film goes out and it's like your film and you love it, and you stand by every moment of it, like even if people hate it, you kind of don't care, you know, it just slips off. When you haven't even made the film that you want it you know, it just kills you. It's like, it's just isn't. There's no winner in that, you know, it's, you know, the film goes out with your name on it. It's It's tough. No, no,

Alex Ferrari 1:05:08
I completely agree. I completely agree if you're going to make risk, I mean, if you're going to take risks, you don't like I say you don't take risks on a $200 movie, you take risks on $100,000 movie or even a million dollar movie?

Dianne Bell 1:05:20
Absolutely. That's it, you know. But I think, you know, the important thing is, when you're seeking out your collaborators, you know, just making sure that you are on the same page, from the start, you know, that you have the same idea of what the successful film would be, you know, what kind of film you're making? I think I read somewhere, it's like, oh, someone's saying something about that. But like, you know, it's when you can all make that, you know, when everyone's trying to make the same film, you know, like a good film is when everyone has actually been trying to make the same film. And it sounds so simple, but it's actually really not that common.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:56
So So after that experience, you went back to your roots in your latest film of Dustin bones? How did that come about?

Dianne Bell 1:06:03
So that came out directly from the experience of my second film, and as I said, because I was really kind of depressed for a while and, and then I remember, I'm sorry, and I just suddenly was like, just for myself, I thought, I really want to have that sort of creative experience making a film again. And I remember I was laying on my bed one afternoon, and I just suddenly was like, oh, what could I shoot in the desert with gainor and pitch and gainor and pitch with it to actors from my first film, and I just loved them so much. They're both like family to me. And my Matt Madeline, who produce absolutely, uh, he has a house out in the desert. And that's why I was thinking, what can I shoot in the desert? Because I spoke to him and he said, Why don't we shoot something at my house in the desert, you know, and I literally like lay down on the bed and I was thinking what can I do with them and within an hour, I just had this whole story in my head and I wrote it very quickly. And and, and we just and we went out we raised the money through crowdfunding and also some private equity sources and, and went out reshot it, you know, and it was just very again, very pure, very simple. And a terrific experience. Although it's a very different felt malaria. It's a lot darker

Alex Ferrari 1:07:11
now and you did the crowd and you did the crowdfunding on a seed and spark right.

Dianne Bell 1:07:15
How was it was absolutely, I mean, it was absolutely intense.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:21
Tell me about him in the middle of it right now.

Dianne Bell 1:07:24
It's, it's like, you don't know until you do it.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:28
It's so freakin nerve wracking. After the first three days, just like, nobody loves me, oh,

Dianne Bell 1:07:33
it was also that thing of putting yourself out there in this crazy way. Like, you know, you really do feel like you're just standing on the street holding out a flower hoping someone will take it in. You're so vulnerable. It is. So like, you don't realize until you do it, you know. Um, but on the flip side of that, it's so enriching. It's so empowering. It's so inspiring,

Alex Ferrari 1:07:59
you know, on the edge, your your, your pushing beyond the boundaries of being comfortable, you're out of you're absolutely doing this. And that's where you grow as an artist. Yeah,

Dianne Bell 1:08:09
no, absolutely. I you know, I just found it. Yeah, I found it to be really so beautiful experience. Ultimately, it was it was definitely harder than I expected. And we sort of, we planned our crowdfunding campaign to like launch just as I was going to Tribeca to premiere, my second film, bleeding heart. And then I was going to ask them actually to teach a workshop and stuff. And so I thought, this is the perfect time, you know, this is like, we'll never get more publicity right then right now, and I'm doing all these interviews and press for bleeding hearts. So I can, you know, mentioned my crowdfunding everywhere. And, you know, like, I quickly learned It's that thing, and it's really true crowdfunding, the people who are going to give money or people who have a connection to you. Yep. You know, it's you, or, you know, your actors or your, you know, like, it's people who are connected to you in some way, like strangers who, like see your movie, even if they like it, they don't really click to like, give you money for your other movies. It's rare, it's very rare. And I and I really learned I mean, for me, like the time that during the time that was in Tribeca, I really couldn't do any work on the crowdfunding campaign because I was like, caught premiering a film and doing all the things that are involved with that. And our crowdfunding campaign flatlined, I mean, like, I was like, Oh my god, you know, like no one's putting money in and the second that I go back to sort of like Facebooking tweeting doing things every day boom you know, money cat started coming in again, and I really like just learned that lesson I experienced as well, my dear. You have to like you have to work Work, work it, you know, to an email email list. We really learned that thing email list was golden. You know, most of the people like I can't remember the exact percentages but I think they convert rate, you know, like, the number of people who came from our email list? I think it was a 25%. That's actually

Alex Ferrari 1:10:06
extremely good conversion. Yes, I

Dianne Bell 1:10:08
think it's like 25% actually gave money. Oh, my God is obscene. That's an amazing convert. Yes. I think from the Facebook page, it was like 12%. And then Twitter was like, five, you know, and it's just like, a perfect example of how, like, the closer people are to you, the more likely they are to give, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:10:27
so So what are your plans with Dustin bones?

Dianne Bell 1:10:30
Well, we are just finishing the film. Now we are sort of in the, we're in our planning stage. And we all sort of this is the thing, people have no idea, like how long it takes to make a film and how much energy is, you know, with a film like this, we really, you know, I think, like, we worked and worked in the last year, and then I needed to take a break, you know, everyone needs to take a break, I've moved, you know, and it's sort of like, it's been let go a little bit, but we're now in the early stages of planning or distribution for early next year. Okay. You know, and, like, for me, my eyesight with this one, you know, it's totally it's, I mean, festivals would be nice, but I didn't make this movie for festivals, I really made it connect with audiences, you know, and that's my goal. Like, I'm totally sort of, like very focused about how do we get this film out there and connect it to people, you know, with people who will love it. It's a very particular film. Alex, if we thought absolutely, it was uncommercial. takes it to a whole new level. Wow. You know, it's you know, there's, it's a dark, it's a challenging fill, you know, it's it's a really, you know, like, like I'm It's that thing again, where, like I made it, and I think I was in a fairly dark place, as I told you like, creatively, like feeling frustrated, but also about the world. I was feeling very, I'm usually pretty optimistic. But at that point, when I wrote that film, I, you know, I was really feeling a little kind of pessimistic about where the role was. The film is about a woman who, whose husband was a photojournalist, and he was beheaded by ISIS. Nice, nice, cheerful film, very

Alex Ferrari 1:12:10
cheerful, uplifting Disney film.

Dianne Bell 1:12:12
Yeah. And so she's living out in the desert, she's just chosen, she doesn't want anything to do with the world. And she's obviously going through her own kind of grieving process, you know, just totally disconnected from the world. And it's about what happens when a man arrives at her house, who is her dead husband's colleague, and the man who was responsible for him going to Syria. And so is what unfolds between these two people, you know, and it's, you know, is about really some big things, you know, it's about, obviously, you know, what's about horror in the world, really, and how we live with, like, these levels of violence and barbarism, you know, and how do we use you

Alex Ferrari 1:12:55
to sell I don't know what you're talking about. I know. It's like that, and the Avengers. I don't understand why this is not.

Dianne Bell 1:13:03
I know. Like, I know, it's not it's not a crowd pleaser. I don't think it is particularly uplifting at the end. Regrettably, you know, that's why I'm going it's a challenging film, you know, but you

Alex Ferrari 1:13:14
know what you're doing, but again, you're being true to who you are. And at the budget level that you're at, you can take these kinds

Dianne Bell 1:13:21
and I love the film. I mean, the performances are like, absolutely phenomenal. It's beautiful. It's absolutely You know, I'm the cinematography I worked with the new cinematographer, this time TJ helmet, and it's absolutely stunning. It's really I mean, it's a very slow ponderous film, but that's the kind of film that I wanted to make and you know, that's the thing like I feel totally I just absolutely love it, you know, and I think

Alex Ferrari 1:13:43
you dropped it but you didn't have you had like had a very unique script for this right? You told me it was like how many pages?

Dianne Bell 1:13:51
I think it was like 60 right? So it was not and it was funny because a number of the people who worked on it said when they read the script, they couldn't really imagine how it was going to be a feature film you know, because it was only 60 pages and the old thing of minute page and whatever Yeah, and you know, and then the first cut of the film was two hours and 20 minutes

Alex Ferrari 1:14:11
I think you told me like the first day you did like take one and the take one just lasted.

Dianne Bell 1:14:18
Yes and TJ the cinematographers turned to me said I understand now why this is gonna be you know, a feature film. Like it, they're really long shots in it, you know, it's, it's, it's a meditation, it's a very slow paced film, there's a lot of silence I think there's hardly any dialogue for the first 30 minutes. There's maybe like, you know, three lines on the radio or something. You know, it's a particular thing, but for me as an artist, like I totally got to explore something that I really want to explore a different kind of film. There's no dialogue, you know, that storytelling in a different way and also the explored you know, themes and issues that are important to me. You know, I just say for myself, I I was feeling like I just want to Go live in the desert disappear, because the world is just too messed up. You know, I know the feeling I know. Yes. And so you know, so and this is what it's about, you know, I think these kinds of films, it's good if they're challenging, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:15:15
no, if it's not, if you're not making a challenging film, in one way, shape or form, you're not growing as an artist.

Dianne Bell 1:15:20
Absolutely, absolutely. You know, you got a race. And I, you know, I think this film, I think, for some people, this will be, you know, this will really fulfill some things that, you know, like, it's definitely not for everybody, it's for a very particular niche audience, you know, but if you'd like a film that makes you think, you know, and makes you work, because it's quite a challenging film, in that sense, structurally, you know, it's not handed to you on a plate what it's about. But I think if you're that kind of the kind of person that's willing to do some work while you're watching a movie, it's rewarding, you know, it's up to us now to find those people and make sure they get the chance to see it.

Alex Ferrari 1:15:57
So tell us about rebel heart, and I love what you're doing with rebel hearts. Please tell everybody how it came into being and what you're doing with it.

Dianne Bell 1:16:05
Yeah, so rebel heart really was born out of my experience, also making the second film, also out of that depression, where I just really felt like, you know, just thought, Oh, my God, if people looked at sort of like my filmmaking career, they would certainly go, Oh, well, obviously, absurdity is like a stepping stone film to get to make the better, you know, the bigger, better film, you know, and everyone's got this idea of this model of filmmaking career as being always like moving up to bigger things. You have bigger meaning bigger

Alex Ferrari 1:16:34
cars, bigger budgets, right?

Dianne Bell 1:16:35
Absolutely. And, you know, just all this baloney, and I just suddenly thought, God is just not true. Like, you know, I think that there's there can be huge freedom that results in better films, when you have smaller budgets, and you get creative control, you know, and I just started to feel overall, in our industry, there's so many lies that are peddled about distribution deals, for example, and about what to expect, and I thought, I really, really just suddenly felt like I was on a mission, to just share, like the Absolute Truth, as I've learned to inexperienced it, about making independent films, you know, and really is that thing of going, just like giving people the tools, you know, like, step by step, how they can make a film happened, how they can give themselves the best chance of making one that will stand out, and that will be fantastic, you know, not just get lost in the shuffle, and how to set up a situation in which they'll get to do it again, and again, regardless of how their first film or the second film turns out, you know, and so that, you know, and so that's it. So as we didn't set that up, and we started teaching workshops, and we do this two day workshop, in which we do, we, as Chris and I, Chris is my husband and also producing partner, in which we share really everything about how we made up solidia. You know, from raising finance, to getting your cast and crew to actually managing the shoot so that everybody's happy, and you have a great time and make something good, you know, and we just share everything step by step how to make it happen, you know, and what to do with it afterwards. And this has been fantastic. Like, I just felt like, really, and I've seen it, I've seen it now with like people who have come to, you know, like one, I think quite a few people have come to me, like be like, Oh, it's just a kick in the pants, because our whole thing is just do it. You know, do not wait for permission, do not wait. You know, you could sit around for the next 10 years waiting for someone to give you the money to make your film you have to make it happen.

Alex Ferrari 1:18:36
I actually I actually did wait 10 years.

Dianne Bell 1:18:40
You know, the first or the last, you know, but now you're doing it. Yeah. And that's what counts because a lot of people have to 10 years then just pack up and go home, you know, and live in the woulda, coulda, shoulda world, you know, and it's like, don't you know, so we are just all about sort of, like, you know, empowerment and it's just like, follow your heart, make stuff happen yourself, just do it, you know, but do it intelligently, you know, like, like school yourself, educate yourself about really what, like how much money you can hope to make from your film, you know, like, do it in a way that gives you the best chance for success in every sense. And it's not about having a lottery ticket.

Alex Ferrari 1:19:15
So basically, you're saying you're gonna have to work? Oh, yeah. I just I talked to a lot of young filmmakers that they just don't understand that it's not about the movie. A lot of times, it's that's a big part of it. But there's so much more about just oh, you always just want to direct I want to be an artist. I'm like, you've got to learn about

Dianne Bell 1:19:38
experience. I mean, I think because my second film was a situation whereby I was, you know, basically like a director for hire on my own film. You know, I didn't have ultimate creative control on it. And I realized that for myself, like through that experience, I went, Okay, if I want to have creative control, I have to take responsibility for myself, you know, and that was the whole thing for me about jumping out and doing crowds. funding, which was terrifying, you know, but I just went, Okay, if I want to be this kind of artists, then I have to take responsibility for building an audience, you know, I have to take responsibility for raising money in this way, you know, like across the board. And I mean, it's like, actually, I've heard Emily best saying Emily best is the CEO and creative seed and spark Yes, wonderful, was amazing. And I heard her saying, like, you know, she's like, of course, I would love to spend my days just talking to filmmakers about how we get their film made, but I have to do all this other work. Like, that's the deal. And she's like, when I hear filmmaker, say, I just want to make films, I just want to be an artist, she's like, glow up. If you want to do that, like, you know, there, there is all this other stuff you have to do. And actually, I've come to realize that that's a privilege. You know, like, I want to now be in the conversations about the budgets, like I want, like, when I started, I was also like, like, I don't want to deal with budgets. And I don't want to deal with you know, because I'm an artist. I don't want to deal with a contract. Yeah. Like, I don't want to be part of all that. Now. I'm like, No, I want to be part of it all, because that is how I have then control and get to make what I want to make Freedom, freedom. Absolutely.

Alex Ferrari 1:21:14
Cassavetes knew every aspect of the filmmaking process. He did everything himself he back in the day, and because in that gave him the creative control Exactly.

Dianne Bell 1:21:23
To do whatever he wanted. Exactly. And then, you know, of course, I still have fantasies everybody does about meeting this, like, ideal producer is going to do everything for you. Yeah. We all know, we all harbor that fantasy. Yeah, well, so I go like, really, if you want to make films, like you know, empower yourself, educate yourself, roll your sleeves up and get going. You know, there's nothing to stop you. There's nothing to stop you.

Alex Ferrari 1:21:48
So to to finish off, our amazing interview has been great so far. Thank you so much, Diane.

Dianne Bell 1:21:53
Thank you,

Alex Ferrari 1:21:55
Chris, who I absolutely am in love with Chris is one of the most interesting human beings I've ever met in my life. Yes. And I absolutely adore him. And he sits down and tells these ridiculous stories of his travels in the world. And one of his claim to fame is that he was in Titanic. He was an actor in Titanic. And he has these amazing stories about his experience. Can you share just one nugget with the audience of his explosive? Mr. Cameron?

Dianne Bell 1:22:29
Yes. So first of all, Chris is the guy who drops the keys, which is really funny, because so many people who've seen Titanic immediately go, I know that guy, I go, Yeah, he's the guy that drops the keys, you know, in case you're trying to get out of the door and locked in, he's shaking, and he's trying to unlock it. And then he drops the keys and runs off and leaves them. So that was his part. But I mean, because the funny thing is, although that was, you know, screentime is quite short. He's in different, you know, scenes, his background and stuff. Sure. He worked on it for I think, six months. And he says, though, I mean, he has only good things to say about Mr. Cameron, he does talk about, um, how he would be injecting himself with like vitamin B and stuff in between takes, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:23:10
wow. So he does because you have to do something to get that as

Dianne Bell 1:23:13
well. And he's like he said, he was I mean, he said, You know, he was working 18 hours a day, every day, you know, and he put himself completely on the line for this movie. And it was funny, because now it's like, oh, of course Titanic the biggest you know, the biggest successful film of all times perhaps something his avatar probably took over that now.

Alex Ferrari 1:23:34
Yes, it's number two, but he has number one. And

Dianne Bell 1:23:38
but you know, but the fact was, like, I think even a week before it was released, the you know, the people in studio were like, this movie's gonna flop, you know, right. Like it was, you know, in the fact that gone silver budgets over time and everything. But I mean, yeah, we easily get Chris on to tell her stories. But I would just go, Yeah, he has nothing but total respect and admiration to James Cameron. Well,

Alex Ferrari 1:24:03
I've met a lot of people who've worked with Mr. Cameron. And they've said, wonderful things. I'm very, I've heard very few negative stories from the artists because I've only

Dianne Bell 1:24:13
know he is like, he said, he's a true artist of visionary, completely committed to what he was doing. And every level. He said, that's what it takes, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:24:22
he did tell me the one story that when he was in a take, and it was looking down, like all the way down the, you know, huge, long hallway or something. He would like yell, cut, run all the way to the end, and move a glass like two inches, and then run a four yard back and people were like, Are you kidding me? Yeah, that's who he is. Yeah, that's the only

Dianne Bell 1:24:48
thing you know, this is the thing I think to make anything good. You have to be like, you know, tall and you know, and no detail is too small because filmmaking is the details and Chris talks about that to me, like he said, Like on tight on this, like how everything the attention to detail is it just was mind blowing you know down to I mean whether the carpet like how everything had to be the exact replicas of the real thing. You know, the porcelain like everything, you know, they go like no matter what budget level you're working at, like you have to be that obsessive about detail I really believe it to make a good film.

Alex Ferrari 1:25:25
You've got to be honest you can't have acid No,

Dianne Bell 1:25:27
absolutely you know and that's what you know i mean obviously James Cameron is like that beyond

Alex Ferrari 1:25:32
what he takes it to another there's a definite he actually has a definition in the in the in the dictionary about the word intense you see a picture of him. Excellent.

Dianne Bell 1:25:42
That's great.

Alex Ferrari 1:25:44
All right, so last two questions. I asked all of my guests. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn in the film industry or in life in general?

Dianne Bell 1:25:54
My goodness, that's a tough one. You know, it goes back to what I was saying before about listening to your heart trusting your instincts. Okay, you know, because I think even though I thought I knew and I thought I'd learned it I hadn't you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:26:08
right it took it took it took your second movie to kind of

Dianne Bell 1:26:11
like I'm still learning it in some ways, you know, and it's it's really you know, I think that's one of the big ones because I think it's so easy for self doubt to creep in for artists. I mean, all of us are different there are the world seems to divide into those who are like completely entitled, overconfident. 100% know that their vision is true. And then there's people like me, who you know, like a beset by doubt. Like it took me all my 20s to believe that anything I wrote could ever be anything, you know, of any decent volume of worth in any way. You know, like, like, it was just like crushingly hard for me it's like yes, it's a hard path for me to do this

Alex Ferrari 1:26:52
you know, it's not an artists path is not an easy path. No, you know

Dianne Bell 1:26:57
and I like as I say that thing of like doubt and so I go like just saying to have faith that like what you do you know that it matters that it has value and you want to listen to yourself, you know, is, for me, the most important one.

Alex Ferrari 1:27:11
Coppola said it best is like, I don't know an artist worth his weight in salt. That doesn't doubt what they're doing. Yeah, it's very true. There has to be a flat out when you I

Dianne Bell 1:27:21
agree. I say I mean, I don't I don't know. Like, you just don't know what goes on anyone else's head. I just know for me like it feels particularly hard.

Alex Ferrari 1:27:30
Oh, no, I'm here. I'm with you. I'm with you. I'm with you. I'm in the middle of it. Right now. I'm editing a scene. I'm like, Oh, god, this is horrible. This is all gonna go. But I'll do that with all my projects. So it's just, it's just the way it is. Now, what are your three favorite films of all time?

Dianne Bell 1:27:47
Oh, Holy moly. That's hard to read that tickle your fancy at the moment. Okay. I mean, the one that always comes to mind like always, it's a wonderful life. Okay. The Capra movie, which people was really surprised, but if you know me, but it's the one movie that I do watch every year. I've watched it every year at Christmas time. And it always makes me cry. And it's the only movie that makes me cry because it's happy. And I just find that the most exquisite thing and the most extraordinary thing in that movie just never bores me. I've seen it more than any other film. I think in my life.

Alex Ferrari 1:28:18
Yes, it is to say something while being that diehard is my favorite Christmas movie. Oh, is it every year?

Dianne Bell 1:28:26
Die Hard is a good movie. So what are the other two? The other two? If you ask me, like every day it probably changes. One will be Tokyo story. I love that film. Great movie. Yeah, it was this film. I just that it just, you know, there's so many things about it that I love. The economy, though, is something that just, I don't know,

Alex Ferrari 1:28:48
his own language, if I'm not mistaken. Right? Yeah, you know, his own visual language, the

Dianne Bell 1:28:52
whole movie is shot from like, the level the camera is always in the position of where you'd be if you're kneeling. So it's quite low, and the camera only moves once in the whole movie. And when it moves, whether you're whether you're aware of or not, it just suddenly sleazy it just kills you. Because it's so like, it has such a subconscious impact on you, you know, and I often think of that, like, you know, you know, just like, how, like, where we put the camera how we move the camera when we move the camera, why we move the camera, you know, it's like, it's everything to me, you know? And that movie too, is just it's also just the most extraordinarily universal story and so specific but so universal everyone I know that watches it says that's my family, you know? I've never known anyone that isn't good. That's my family. And I'm like, yeah, and yet it's so specifically postwar Japan. It's like and that amazes me. And the last one today, I mean, in any data, you asked me it would be something different. I don't, it's possibly because I just got a copy of a new Tarkovsky film, but it has to be something back to the moment I'm obsessed with him.

Alex Ferrari 1:30:01
He's

Dianne Bell 1:30:02
amazing is this you know, and I'm like, which one? Would it be nostalgia weirdly is one of my favorites.

Alex Ferrari 1:30:09
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. You know, but but he's one of those artists that he just did. He just did him

Dianne Bell 1:30:25
and it's just transcendental. Do you know? Like, you don't care

Alex Ferrari 1:30:28
about plot, it doesn't matter about. He didn't care about it. Like he cared about the

Dianne Bell 1:30:33
human spirit.

Alex Ferrari 1:30:34
Yes, he was just doing what he wants.

Dianne Bell 1:30:38
It's about cinema. Yes, big time. You know, it's like in cinema, it's not TV. It's not like talking heads. You know, it's cinema. It's a language. It's a fabric. It's like, it's that thing what you put in front of your camera, you know? Obviously last week, curious Tommy just passed away. And he was certainly one of my favorite living filmmakers. tasted cherries, a film that we watched a number of times before we show our last movie in the desert. I became like, I when I first saw I just, like, loved it. But then I really became quite obsessed with it last year, you know, it's, it's like and again, it's it's just staggering. But there's so many I can't

Alex Ferrari 1:31:15
I don't know, we could go on for hours just geeking out on movies.

Dianne Bell 1:31:19
When somebody asks like, Oh, you hate movies, I end up thinking about filmmakers, you know, and then trying to choose which one of their films you know what I mean, in a sense.

Alex Ferrari 1:31:26
Yeah, I know, like I have I have my list. But then there's like, it changes all the

Dianne Bell 1:31:31
changes, or, you know, but then it doesn't. The films I'm talking about today are films. They've been on my list for the last 20 years.

Alex Ferrari 1:31:36
Right. Right. The analysts right there. Yes.

Dianne Bell 1:31:38
You know, so

Alex Ferrari 1:31:40
where can people find you?

Dianne Bell 1:31:43
They can find me on Twitter. Okay. Yes.

Alex Ferrari 1:31:49
This is the point where you tell us what your your website's on?

Dianne Bell 1:31:52
Yes. Okay. Great. I like it. Where can you find me?

Alex Ferrari 1:31:55
I'm not asking for your home address.

Dianne Bell 1:31:57
So my Twitter Yeah, I live in Denver, come to Denver, Colorado. So my Twitter handle is at Diane Bell one di n he wanted. And then I have my website is rebel heart film, Rebel heart. film.com. And through that, like I sometimes blog about filmmaking and aspects of filmmaking you do and just try to share, you know, like I said, honest information. You know, the honest truth is I as I've perceived it working,

Alex Ferrari 1:32:27
I have to coerce you in doing a guest blog post one day for indie film. Yeah. Because your your blogs or your articles, and your blog posts are awesome, because they're just they come they're like your films, they come from the heart, and they come from truth. Yeah.

Dianne Bell 1:32:41
Thank you. I haven't blogged for a while since I moved here. I moved to Denver in March, my last post, my last blog post was about you know, does a filmmaker need to live in Los Angeles, I remember that one, as I as I, you know, as I hit the road, and the car drove to Denver. So yeah, and it's funny, like, I feel like I've just been sort of like, recalibrating myself, you know, and sort of re nourishing myself these last months. So I haven't been super active on it. Well,

Alex Ferrari 1:33:11
thank you so much for being on the show you have been, I knew you would be a pleasure and a wealth of information. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. And I hope everyone got as much as I did out of it. So thank you so much.

Dianne Bell 1:33:26
Thank you, Alex. I just love what you're doing with indie film, hustle. It's awesome.

Alex Ferrari 1:33:30
Thanks again, I appreciate it.

Dianne Bell 1:33:32
Thank you.

Alex Ferrari 1:33:34
Diane, by the way, is one of the sweetest if you can tell the sweetest people I've ever met, I absolutely adore her and her husband, Chris. And I look forward to working with them. Again, in the future on any of their projects. There's always an open call to work with them. I absolutely love, love, love, love working with them. And it was it's always a fascinating story to see how other people you know, get to places where you might dream to be and see what the realities are, and see what the realities are of, you know, winning Sundance and what it does, and it's not that magic carpet ride. Once you get it like you know, you win Sundance, and you know, it doesn't it's not that Harvey Weinstein writes you a check and and you move into the Hollywood Hills and you start making millions It doesn't work that way. And I think that's the story. And that's the dream that is sold very often only by film schools by the industry in general just to keep the machine going. But the reality is, are that's not just the way it is. And those days are the days of those times in the 90s. Those days are not now they're very different, very different world. And I wanted to kind of bring a reality check to everybody about what it really takes. Even after you win Sundance. You got to keep hustling. You got to keep pushing and keep trying to get projects made and you know she's a winner of son and a two time winner of Sundance and get, you know, she had to go crowdfund her movie because nobody would finance her third movie of Dustin bones. You know, and it was very interesting to go down that road with her. And I've heard a lot of things off air, and we've talked a bunch about her other projects and what she's gone through with them, but I hope it just kind of shines a light to what the real world is like, and but don't get me wrong. Her trip was magical when she was at Sundance. I mean, I mean, she told me that story with the Robert Redford story when she went up to have lunch at Robert Redford ties with Mark Ruffalo, and all these people and it just must have been amazing I'm like I'm giddy just listening to it I'm, you know, I hope and wish and prayed I get something like that would happen to me or any of my hustlers out there. I really am, by the way of anybody, any of my hustlers out there any of the of the tribe, get into any big major festivals, please let me know, you know, or if you've reached a goal of yours, whatever that goal might be, please reach out and let me know, I really want to know what happens with you guys. And, you know, Alex, I made my first movie, and I just got into South by Southwest, or I just finally finished my first feature film, and I got accepted into the x Film Festival. And it's screening and I'm so so excited. You know, I want to hear these stories, guys, I really, really do. So please just reach out to me via email or via our Facebook group, or through the film hustle on Facebook or Twitter. Let me know man, I really want to know what's going on with you guys. We are a community and you know, I want you guys to share the goods and the bads, the highs and the lows. So I get a lot of lows, I would love to hear some more highs as far as you guys making it, or you're like, hey, Alex, I'm making a living. I'm making a movie this year. And it's awesome. And you know, that's, that's all you could ask for is to make a living, doing what you love to do. And that is, you know, a goal that we should all have in our lives. So, guys, thanks again for for making this my one year anniversary, that we're still around that you guys are listening and spreading the word of indie film hustle. And I really again, appreciate it. And I hope you got a lot out of that interview with Diane bell. And I'm gonna leave all her show notes at indie film hustle.com for slash zero 90. And there you'll be able to get links to her directly to rebel heart films. And what she's doing with those amazing seminars which I've been invited to and I've listened in on and they're wonderful man. And it comes from her perspective of what it really took for her to get her movies out and the festival circuit and all that kind of stuff. And it's, it's wonderful. So definitely check out check out the show notes at indie film hustle.com for slash zero 90. Thanks again guys I am off to after I'm done recording this I am going back to the Edit room which is the same room I record this and but I'm going to be back in the Edit room. And by the way, there will be a cameo in this is Meg of my edit suite. There is a scene that takes place in an edit suite, oddly enough, so you guys will see where I actually record the podcast as well as do all my post production and things like that. But you'll see more of that later. As more and more parts of the courses in indie film syndicate come out. I'll be recording them in my suite. But I'm going to be heading back to the edit suite, cranking on the Edit and then preparing for my shoot tomorrow. So guys, thank you again so much. I can't stop Thank you guys, you know because you guys mean so much to me. So thanks again and if you hear my voice a little bit kind of off is because I just got done with a head cold. That's why I only released one podcast this week as opposed to our normal two. Because I have twin girls and they are little petri dishes of bacteria that they bring home all the time. And I apparently have very little defense against it. I will do the best I can to keep cooking. So guys, thanks again. Keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive and I will talk to you soon.

YOUTUBE VIDEO

LINKS

SPONSORS

  1. Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  2. AudibleGet a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook
  3. Rev.com – $1.25 Closed Captions for Indie Filmmakers – Rev ($10 Off Your First Order)

IFH 075: What Does It Really Take to Make in Hollywood with Sebastian Twardosz

Right-click here to download the MP3

Every once in awhile we all need to get a gut check. A “gut check” is when some new situation, or in this case knowledge, that tests your belief on what it takes to achieve your goal.

I invited Sebastian Twardosz to give us that gut check and lay down some major knowledge bombs on the Indie Film Hustle Tribe. Now Sebastian has been playing the Hollywood game for close to two decades and has racked up some major experience. Hollywood and the film business, in general, is a “relationship business“. Here’s what Sebastian said:

“Some of you will be successful and some of you will be less successful—it’s a numbers game, but regardless of the stats, you will likely fail if you don’t help each other.”

Sebastian Twardosz’s first production job was from 1995-1999 for Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner’s Paramount-based company where he started as an assistant and was promoted to an executive, actively participating in the making of Mission Impossible 1-2 and Without Limits.

Like many hopefuls wanting to get into the film biz, Sebastian Twardosz started as an agent’s assistant in the motion picture department at ICM. He graduated from the USC School of Cinematic Arts in 1993. His short filmSilent Rain, received a Student Academy Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as well as the Student Emmy.

Sebastian co-produced the independent feature Small Town Saturday Night starring Chris Pine, and he has been an adjunct professor at both UCLA and USC Film Schools teaching about the art and business of film since 2006.

He also hosted a weekly show called The Insiders which aims to shed light on the “behind-the-scenes world of Hollywood” for aspiring filmmakers. Sebastian is currently a partner in Circus Road Films, which advises and represents emerging filmmakers. Take a listen to this eye-opening interview.

Alex Ferrari 0:30
I like to welcome to the show Sebastian Twardosz. I hope I didn't massacre that last name too much, Sebastian.

Sebastian Twardosz 3:51
It was it was perfect. Actually.

Alex Ferrari 3:54
No problem, man. Thanks for having me having. Thanks for having me on the show. I think I'm glad to have you on the show, man. Thanks for doing the show. I really appreciate it. We, Sebastian I met under interesting circumstances.

Sebastian Twardosz 4:07
Meet all my good friends.

Alex Ferrari 4:09
So I wrote many, many I think at the very almost at the beginning of the film, also I wrote this article about producers reps, and I have my bad experience with one in particular. And and Sebastian is a producer's rep now. He's done many things in the business and we're going to talk all about the stuff he's done in the business but Sebastian actually contacted me and said, Hey, man, you know, we're not all bad. I'm like, I know and then we just started talking I'm like, you know, and I got his perspective on what a real producers rep does a reputable one and what you know what the actual inside of that world is, as opposed to just my horrible experience. But so we're gonna talk a little bit about that and talk a bit about a bunch of the other stuff that Sebastian does. So Sebastian, you did a show on Youtube called the insiders which I have now become addicted to why Because you've got some amazing guests that come on, and you really kind of, you're similar to me in the sense that you kind of you're a straight shooter, you don't Bs, you don't kind of dance around it, you're like, this is what it takes, guys. This is what it really takes and to make it in the business and boom, boom, boom, you ask these kind of questions. So can you talk a little bit about the insiders? tell everybody about it.

Sebastian Twardosz 5:22
Right. Okay. Well, thank you, first of all, for having me on. That's very nice of you to say nice things. So yeah, well, you know, because I do a lot of different things. I mean, I also I teach at USC, I teach another place called National University. I am a producer's rep and you know, I just kind of my you know, I just believe in paying it forward and I try to be helpful to people that's these are really just avenues of being helpful. So the insiders Believe it or not, what's interesting, it goes right back to producer wrapping. If you look us up on IMDB, my co producer on that and director of all the episodes is Kevin hamadani. And we actually represented Kevin's film that's how I met Kevin. He made it true. So this is it all. It's kind of like what you do Alex, you have you do a lot of different things, but they all kind of you know, they're synergistic as they say. Yes, so I met Kevin we represented a film of his it's not the best Title I hate the title, but it's a very good movie. It's called junk. j u n. k.

Alex Ferrari 6:22
It's a rough that's a rough movie to sell.

Sebastian Twardosz 6:24
It's a rough movie just the titles that help us sell this movie but we did we did do a good job in selling them when Kevin was actually very happy hence he did a show with me that goes back to the beginning there are some good rubber good producer reps out there. But anyway so what what his story was if you look up Kevin that movie junk was in a lot of film festivals actually did really well on the festival circuit and he wanted to you know sell it and you know, we we got involved with them and we helped him get his distributor made the deal, etc. And he was very happy with that. And then it was probably about you know, Kevin has gone on to do even additional films and shorts and he's been like in Seattle Film Festival in Austin and Los Angeles from festival etc and other things. He's He's very good you can and watch junk. Oh, I should tell you but the movie is about kind of a burned out filmmaker who goes through the festival circuit.

Alex Ferrari 7:26
I got it. I got actually watched that now.

Sebastian Twardosz 7:28
Yeah, who goes through the whole thing of festivals and also, it's got a fantastic cameo in it. If you if you love movies in the 1980s this as one of the best cameos ever. Great movie, and it's about this filmmakers journey of making his movie, an independent film going through the festival circuit and then getting released. It's literally what we're talking about. Okay, it's a fantastic movie. Really. Okay. Anyway, um, so it's called junk and just just put it everywhere.

Alex Ferrari 7:58
I'll put it I'll put it in the show notes.

Sebastian Twardosz 8:03
Okay. So anyway, so that went that went well. And it was about two years after that. Maybe he he started directing for this YouTube network, YouTube channel called lip TV. And there's some other great shows on there. One of the best shows ever about interview about documentaries. It's called BYOD bring bring your own doc is fantastic. So if you love documentaries, you just go to YouTube and do BYOD anyway, Kevin was directing a lot of these he directed quite a few of the various shows and he asked me if I wanted to do one. Um, and I think he got the idea because I also teach at USC. So here's how this comes full circle because I asked him to be a guest on one of my classes. And we had a great time. Again, no BS, you know, we swear we do all kinds of great stuff in my class, and he had a rockin good time. And so he thought, well, maybe we could put this on the air. Now granted, we can't be quite as loose as we are, you know, setting Sure. He had the idea of doing the show. And I said yes. And the reason I said yes was because of my background, I you know, I know a lot of people like almost everybody on that show. Not everyone, but almost everyone I know, you know, personally or have worked with in some capacity. And I just knew all these people. And a lot of them I was invited to my class. So like, if you go if you Google my name Sebastian toward Oz, and USC, my class pops up and you see all this great list of guest speakers and are saying to myself, you know, this is really cool that I could bring him into class and teach everyone you know, because there's my classes, like two hours of me talking and then two hours of the guest speaker q&a. And so I said, You know, I really wish more people could hear what some what these guys have to say. And so the idea was to just get and I knew a lot of these guests because I've done classes with them. I've had a good rapport with them. So you know, Kevin gave me the opportunity and he said, look, I think I can get you the show on The lip TV and and so I went in to meet with the guys who who run it. This one guy Michael Lustig is the kind of creator, the executive producer of all of it. And they said, Yeah, let's give it a shot. So I did it, we ended up doing 42 episodes, we had to take a break. Because I have a lot going on. There's two reasons we took a break. I also want to do a different version of it, ultimately, but the whole idea of the show was to kind of, you know, really dissect industry. And for people who really want to know, like, how things work, or how people made it. My biggest question for everyone was always like, their origin story, and how did they? Yeah, they make it? Yeah, how did they get in. And then we kind of get into the weeds a little bit with some of them. But but it's not meant to be Entertainment Tonight, the show's really meant for people who want to, you know, make it in Hollywood, kind of, like, you know, like my students at USC, or national universities and other place or, I used to teach at UCLA to actually and, and just to kind of, you know, have other people experience and get to know you know, how it's done. That's it, that was the whole impetus for the show.

Alex Ferrari 11:10
It's a great show and anybody who's interested in getting it, you know, amazing access to some amazing guests and it's awesome. It's really really awesome.

Sebastian Twardosz 11:18
Well, some of the episodes are very good, some are a little slow. So you know, I didn't we didn't really have that much time was a little bit thrown together. I wish when we do a 2.0 version of it, which I hope to do. There I have a lot of ideas for making it better, but but it's it's it's pretty good. I'm pretty I'm happy with it.

Alex Ferrari 11:33
So can you talk a little bit from your perspective, what does a producer rep do?

Sebastian Twardosz 11:38
Okay, well, there are different kinds of producer reps. Ultimately, their job is to help you get distribution to like find you a distribution deal. And then to negotiate the basic terms of that, that that's the ultimate job and that's what most producer reps do. We we do more than that, but that's the basics and you say we who is we? Well, my partner Glenn Reynolds and I and then we have a couple of people that work with us we're also partners Alex nollie and Josh Holman you know we have varied backgrounds you know like Glenn produced conversations with other women he stopped you know he started like a really successful foreign sales company you know with the law school University of Texas produced other movies also and has you know just been working in business for a while Alex No, he used to be with film independent and has been with various you know, programmer various festivals Also producer I mean if you just look at the background for us, we are we are doing well Josh Holman by the way is really cool. I think it was two summers ago he won the Austin Film Festival for writing comedy spec oh nice he wrote you know, so we're all in the business to various ways and really what we're doing is you know, you make various relationships as you kind of go through and it just turned out that we knew a lot of people who could help in terms of distribution but like I said we do more like we do a lot of festival consulting which is a big aspect of it and then we actually do the the the deals to actual contracts

Alex Ferrari 13:16
Now you say we again but your name you haven't mentioned the name of your company wants to just want to make sure you get it out

Sebastian Twardosz 13:22
Sorry I'm sorry. Circus Road Films.

Alex Ferrari 13:26
Okay. No worries now Now you know the situation that I was in and the reason why we spoke heavily about that and the negative connotation is that the person has that has since been ousted from the business are there still in your experience producer reps out there who are doing that kind of negative you know, you know we talked a little bit about upfront payments and things of that we'll talk about what what producers reps generally get charged you know charge and things like that but you know the abuse that this person's and if you want to say her name I have no problem

Sebastian Twardosz 14:00
I'm gonna say that I think that's appropriate but I mean when you know when I read the article that you posted I knew exactly who you're talking about like instantly and anybody who in this part of the business because it's a very small part of the business this particular niche of it you know, anyone would know right away you somehow found your way to the worst very bad actor they say like like really probably the worst which is unfortunate and although you did get a deal at the end, which is you know, better than not getting any deal at all

Alex Ferrari 14:35
Some somewhere I still lost money but it was it was a little surreal. Yeah,

Sebastian Twardosz 14:38
Well, um so you know, that it's just unfortunate but are there other people like that there's no one that I'm aware of that it's at that level. Honestly, it's just, you know, because that particular person had various filings against them in the Better Business Bureau, all kinds of stuff. I have never seen that with anyone else. I you just happen to fall into the worst There are some other people who I'm sort of concerned with, because I know the appropriate, appropriate way to do this in the not appropriate way. Let me just say this, um, you know, because upfront fees in this part of the business are actually normal. But here's the thing, you know, it's hard, it might be hard to tell from the filmmakers side of it, I suppose. But, you know, like, we don't represent movies, if one we don't like them, or two, we don't think we can get them a deal, we just will pass, because there is the internet and there is, you know, our reputations. And like, for us, like, I've represented other students at USC, or I've represented, you know, some of my other professors, they're actually my boss, you know, and, you know, so much that that must be very interesting. Was it was what wasn't my direct boss, but she's definitely my superior. there at the school, because she's the head of the producing track. But you know, and we did the fee and everything, but you know, we come through for our clients. And you know, it, I suppose the differences, you know, do you just take money just to take the money? Or do you take it because you really want to be helpful, and you think you can be helpful? And that's kind of it for me, I'll, you know, if I think I can be helpful, then yeah, I'll do it. But if I, you know, cuz some movies are, you know, you just can't, there's just nothing we can do. So, you know, you just have to walk away, right? Also, there's some filmmakers, it's just, you know, my life might be too short. Walk away. I know the feeling again, but with you want, it was very unfortunate, you just happen to fall into the wrong hands. And, you know, I don't know what to say, I don't think most people are like that. There are some people I'm a little bit concerned with. It's true. Because you know, anybody can be a producer's Rep. So really, it's about just doing a lot of research. And I know, in your case, you said you even had a recommendation or referral. Oh, yeah. Which is even makes it even tougher.

Alex Ferrari 17:07
It was it was it was from a very major organization that I was a part of, and she and that producers rep came and spoke and was represented, you know, recommended by the head of the organization, everything. So that was a lot of due diligence right there. Because I trusted, the organization has nothing to do with the organizations that happen to be a bad situation. But

Sebastian Twardosz 17:25
I just don't know what to say to that. Because, you know, I just don't know what to say, because you do have to do the due diligence. You know,

Alex Ferrari 17:34
It was really it's okay. I mean, it's really early on in my career, I was I was literally in diapers almost, in the sense of the business. And she saw me coming from a mile away. And that was what happened and life goes on. But so with that said, What do producers reps generally charge as a general statement for, you know, representing a representation of an indie film?

Sebastian Twardosz 17:55
Well, what they charge depends on what they do, okay. And they charge at different points. So we'll start from various places, you can get a producer rep for just 10%. But you know, there's, there's two kinds of reps that will work in that, that zone. One is, you know, the major agencies. And, you know, they're really working with movies that you know, are pure Sundance movies that have, you know, very recognizable names. And then if not stars, just kind of moonlighting in indie films, you know, it's very hard for, for what I call a true independent to get that kind of representation. It's possible, but it's, it's very hard. And then there, there are the other reps who just do it a 10%. But what happens is, if they can't, you know, sell your movie in a month, or you know, if you don't get into a major festival, like Sundance Tribeca, Toronto, or South by Southwest, they'll just drop you and they might do it amicably. But really, it's for most, nine out of 10 independent movies, the 10% reps are really truly not interested or disinterested. You know, I even have a story of one film that we represent that we did a good job on. They had signed with a just a pure 10 percenter. And as soon as they signed, that person never called or emailed them back again. It was just purely the art of closing the deal. And they had to let that contract run Now fortunately, because I was also trying to sign that film. It's a very good film, small film but very good as Australia saying, but they said, Well, we just don't want to pay any upfront fee. I said, Okay, well, but the things change, let me know. And I said to him, I said, Look, at the very least, just sign three months. I said no more. I said because look, if they can't get it done in three months, they're not. They're not ever going to do it. And that's a good thing. They were able to get their claws down to three months so that three months later they contact me You said Look, I walked away because they live They told me you guys never call us back and so we took on the film and in less than two months we had a deal and they were really happy and on and on. So okay so that's the temper centers and mind you that's really good if you have the right kind of film the right kind of film basically means you have to be in the Big Four festivals or it's got to have like some extremely marketable element to it. But but this is the smallest minority of indie films it truly is. Then they're the ones that charge fees tip like us which we do typically the the reps that charge fees will also do your contracts and we do that so um, some will charge you upfront and I'll talk about how much in a second and some will charge you when they sign a deal. Like as soon as you sign a deal and it could vary I've basically the magic number seems to fall between five and 10,000 it really does vary also depending on you know, there's there's so many factors that go into it so but that number seems to fall between five and 10 which is where we are and then you know for us we do another thing though, so that's most reps most reps it's really just about making the deal finding a distribution and like which I said is the main thing but with us we do more like one of the main things that I do is festival consulting and I do a lot of festival consultant that you can just hire a film festival consultant separately and that could run you 500 to 1000 a month right? It really can't and so what we do is we do festival consulting we do the distribution submissions and then we do the contracts all three wrapped into our fee and I think we are well worth it yeah I kind of use like my class as an example like to get me in my class at USC you could just look this up my class there cost $6,500 which is a lot of money but mind you this class is a really good class so if you watch any of the insiders episodes, it is way better than even that because you're just getting a small taste of it not getting the real the kind of stuff you can say off screen you know all the stuff before that that you can that we talked about so you know you have to put it in the context for what you're getting what the person's actually doing, and what they can charge for because look we don't have to help you get into a festival The reason we do it we I'll tell you why we do we do it for a couple reasons one, it can help to sell your film if you get into the right festival 2 it's good for you and your career it will help you advance your career and really if you look at me specifically I mean I'm teaching Believe me I'm not teaching for the money you know I make more money doing you know circus road or doing other things that I do that I do teaching I do teaching because I really am trying to pay for night I love this business and I want to make it easier for people than it was for me basically that's kind of the same here what that's basically what it did my whole thing is like remembering like what it was like for me when I was 18 and I got out here I mean even the class the class that I teach at USC is actually the class I wish I had and then I eat it when I when I was at USC but I didn't have or they didn't have it there so there's really the impetus for all of it so yeah so anyway so so that's kind of how the fee stuff works it just depends what you get if they're doing your contracts are always going to charge the reason is because you're going to have to hire a lawyer no matter what you shoot you're gonna have to hire one I suppose you could do want to do it on your own but it wouldn't be I wouldn't advisable to do it yeah, so you're gonna pay one way or another and what we're doing is we have all that in house as opposed to just be being a you know, a pure rep without doing the contracts because the temper centers typically will have to match you up pair you up with with a lawyer and by the way when you're paying that lawyer if they're referring a lawyer they're probably getting kind of a fee kickback You don't even know about course course that's the way the system is getting paid. You just don't know about it. So with us we just happened to be very upfront about it. Well here's what it is these are the actual costs of doing this. And you know then if you get into good festival and say the Austin was obviously the Big Four like you know, talked about, let's say you get into a smaller but great festival like Austin or tell you writers cinequest will tell you for sure, but but you know, we go off into those festivals we don't charge anymore to do to do any of that, you know, but we go and you know, our advices is rock solid on all sorts of things because we've kind of been there before. But you know, these things cost.

Alex Ferrari 24:49
Yeah, there's a cost involved with it. So well thank you for explaining that a little bit more and getting your perspective on what a real producer's rep does and let everybody understand what That situation is now in your in your past you have worked with a lot of people. But specifically you had the opportunity to work with a mega movie star as a producer, Mr. Tom Cruise. What was it like working with Tom Cruise on on the level that you were working with him on?

Sebastian Twardosz 25:19
Well, that was really kind of one of the best times of my life was so amazing. I'm a I'm actually a working class kid. You know, my parents were definitely I'm an immigrant. First of all, I was born in Poland. And my dad was a machinist. My mom was a hairstylist. You know, I went to USC, on scholarship, USC, film, school, those all scholarship and stuff, thank God. But you know, but but I come from a very working class kind of area of Detroit and, you know, working for Tom Cruise. credible, I'm sure, flying around in private jets, you know, dealing with CIA, and, you know, the chairman of CIA, you know, because agent was the CO chairman of CIA. Yeah, you know, his, his publicist was the number one publicist in the business. Pat, Kingsley, Mk. And, you know, we were, you know, it was at the height of his career, he was, when I was there, it was a mission, one mission to Jerry Maguire and Eyes Wide Shut the movie he produced, which was without limits, which is, I was on set for that. So, I mean, it was eye opening. You know, in hindsight, hindsight is always a good thing, I suppose, you know, but these companies, they're small, first of all, you know, so when you have a, you know, it's the same today as it was, then, when you have a movie star, you know, you're only talking about a company of, like, 10 or so people at as many as 15, if it's big, or as little, I suppose, is like six, but it's a round number of around 10 that work at these companies and, and it is very high pressure. Because, you know, at that time, he was for sure, the biggest movie star in the world. And there's a lot of demands, and you know, there's a lot of money to be made and the choices that you make are important, you know, because everybody wants you in their movie, and a lot of people will profit from whatever choices you make. So it was I would, I would describe it as extremely a very high pressure place for sure.

Alex Ferrari 27:23
Yeah, that sounds that sounds like you've made obviously a lot of contacts along the way being in that in those kind of situations.

Sebastian Twardosz 27:29
Yeah, because everyone's calling you know, so you know, studio heads. I mean, literally chairman of studios or chairwoman of studios you know, all the heads of all the major everybody wants you because your time and what was interesting to me is you know, I would read variety or nowadays you're reading deadline Hollywood, but you know, you read like so and so was cast in the eye like Matt Damon gets this film or, or Kevin Reynolds Kevin Costner? I'm sorry, Kevin Costner gets this film or what have you Tom Hanks gets this film. And the truth of the matter is that we had seen that script and it had been offered to Tom Cruise probably six months or more before it ever got offered to anybody else and it appeared in the traits he was he would see everything like so all these announcements with all these other you know very big movie stars. Will Smith What have you we you know, these are scripts we have seen six months nine months before it was ever announced that somebody else was in it

Alex Ferrari 28:29
So you were where you were working at the top of the mountain

Sebastian Twardosz 28:32
It what's funny is it didn't feel that way when you were there because there's always you know working at these companies there's always consent you know this concentric circles and you know obviously my boss who was Tom's partner, Paula Wagner she's in the center of it and we're you know, there's rings outside of that we were close to the center but you know but yes I mean we were you know we were a Paramount's I suppose we were at the top of the mountain but I guess literally Yeah, but it doesn't it really doesn't feel that way it's just a lot of work a lot of script reading a lot of production just a lot of You're so you're working so much that you just you lose sight of the outside world innocence you actually you actually lose sight of where you are in a way because you know you still have to do the actual work and you're not you know, I'm not that I wasn't his producing partner or anything you know, I'm not the head of the studio. You know, I'm working at this company and I guess I was one of the 10 or so people core people there for a long time but you can't you do you lose you lose sight just because you're you're buried in so much work.

Alex Ferrari 29:44
Now, what they did with Eyes Wide Shut, were you involved with Eyes Wide Shut at all.

Sebastian Twardosz 29:50
No, with Stanley Kubrick is always an exception. I think. We were We were we you know, we we were not in involved with that movie. No, that was all Stanley. It was Yeah, it was all set it was going on at the same time as, you know, mission one mission to Jerry Maguire. And without limits Those were all happening around the same time. But you know, Tom, you know, actors are busy, they can do more than one thing at Tom is also a producer, they could do more, you know, they do numerous movies every year. So that was while everything else was going on.

Alex Ferrari 30:24
But I heard that. But I also heard that Stanley basically locked up Tom for what, 18 months?

Sebastian Twardosz 30:31
Um, well, that's true. But Tom was still he is a producer, you know. So although Tom may have been, you know, acting in that movie, he's still reading scripts for his next movie, you're still reading scripts of writers he wants to hire to, you know, right Mission Impossible to Yeah, he's working. Well, we were in development a mission to while so it's not like, it's not like he was only doing that there. We were an active development on mission to while he was there, he was reading and meeting with, you know, writers and directors for mission too. So that was the that was obviously the big impetus because we didn't want to just come out. And also he was producing movie, he wasn't even in without limits. And believe me, believe me every single day. He was on the phone with Paul, we were on the south Paulo. I was on the phone with him every day, every single day back then. We faxed pages to him. Even small changes every page of a script that was changed in any way was sent to him. He was overnighted back then. Video while back I was videotapes we could do now was we're talking about 1995 Sure, sure. Sure. Internet was just a baby. Yeah, we were overnighting you know, all the dailies to them. I mean, this is and we're not talking like FedEx. We're talking like private couriers to get it right to Tom, you know, on a set where he was, you know, England, Eyes Wide Shut. Everything was overnighted to him. He was incredibly involved. So basically, maybe producing sorry, producing without limits may have kept him saying maybe while he was working with um, maybe that's what it was. I mean, I don't know. You know, exactly, but, but I'm sure that that probably was a good a good thing for him to be doing while Stanley was, you know, doing 200 takes because the shooting ratio is so high 200 takes of a scene.

Alex Ferrari 32:31
Oh, we could talk about Stanley for hours. I'm a huge Kubrick fan. And that's one of my favorite Kubrick movies. Believe it or not, I love Eyes Wide Shut.

Sebastian Twardosz 32:38
Oh, I have some stories. I could tell you that because I would hear stuff. Like mind blowing. But uh, but yeah, so I'm sure the production company side the development side of all the other things Tom was doing probably kept him sane while he was doing Eyes Wide Shut. Like I said we had nothing to do with that. Sure. Sure, sure. So you know, Stanley could do his thing. Tom was in it. And I think he was very happy to be in it. But Tom has, you know, a life outside of that. And that was all the other movies we were working on.

Alex Ferrari 33:04
Now. In another interview, I heard you discuss the two paths an indie filmmaker can take when making a film The making money path and the jumpstart your career path? Can you tell us a little bit more about both of those paths?

Sebastian Twardosz 33:17
Okay, yes, it's it's, you know, this isn't like set in stone. This isn't like lanes of the highway. But yes, there seem to be two paths that I've seen for indie films. So if all you want to do is just make money. There are certain kinds of films you make in there certain kinds of things you put into those movies, and they tend to be more genre movies, or action movies or horror movies or what have you. Or you can make a pure for instance, most people don't know this, but making a pure family film is probably the best thing you could do. Like, you know, you don't know, the franchise that no one ever talks about. The most probably one of the most successful franchises out there.

Alex Ferrari 34:00
Beethoven.

Sebastian Twardosz 34:02
No. But Close, air buds.

Alex Ferrari 34:06
Oh, God, I could imagine those air buds. Yes, they just keep going and go we can go

Sebastian Twardosz 34:11
Look who produced it originally. But if you look, it's Bob and Harvey Weinstein.

Alex Ferrari 34:16
Right! I suppose it was that was that? That was an amerimax thing that was

Sebastian Twardosz 34:21
Yes, it was a pretty or dimension or something. Yeah. Often Harvey Weinstein or the executive producers, because you know the secret in this industry. It's true. If you make like a dog movie or pure kids movie, it will make a lot of money. And so now there but movies are all owned by Disney, but that's because Disney bought Miramax Sure, sure they got it out from Miramax. But there's so many of those airborne movies anyway, if you make movies like that, it won't necessarily propel your career as a director. Because you're going to be looked at in a certain way, but you'll make a lot of money. The riskier bet is to try and propel your career as a director. And for that you pretty much have to make basically A major festival film Sundance Film south by Toronto, Tribeca. And those movies tend to be more dramas, they do have a midnight section. So you could get away with it. But they're kind of elevated movies in that sense. And they're much riskier, because making a drama. If you don't get one of the big four festivals will probably diamond financial disaster. So it's very tricky as to how to go about, about doing it. But those are the two paths. The other thing is, you know, what do people really look for in, in director clients, you know, so for writers, they're looking for your voice. And for a director, they're looking for your point of view. So they want to see, you know, how, how you direct, you know, scenes and actors and stuff. And that's the kind of stuff that goes to Sundance. So that's why you have you know, all these let me look at the Russo brothers, you know, that their first movie was actually at slam dance. Then they had a movie in Sundance, and then their careers took off. Same thing with Colin trevorrow. Sundance movie, and then, you know, Jurassic, right from a Sundance movie safety net County, which is a great little movie, by the way, it's just a little movie a character piece, not very proud. If it didn't go into Sundance, it probably wouldn't have been profitable at all.

Alex Ferrari 36:18
It didn't have any major stars, Mark duplass is the only I think, yeah.

Sebastian Twardosz 36:21
And then and then and, you know, and then he goes to Jurassic World, and this is normal. There are other examples of this. I mean, it goes way back, even, you know, Bryan Singer directed x men, you know, he did a movie called public access, which is a drama, really, it's kind of a mystery drama that went to Sundance and, and, and it was Sundance that gave him his break. So you know, you want to go for that, but it's very difficult. It's not very few movies get to go to Sundance. Um, so that's why it's a risky path. So that's why I say to people, you have to know what you want. When you start making a movie, or even Ryan Johnson, by the way, who did brick, this his first movie went to Sundance, and now he's directing Star Wars episode eight. And you know, I know kind of his whole story, his was kind of took longer to get to Star Wars, but Sundance makes a difference. So you have to know what you're doing from the onset. And what I tell people is, actually, and this goes kind of goes, goes back to producer reps again, by the way, you should not be making a feature film to make money.

Alex Ferrari 37:22
No, it's a worst worse idea.

Sebastian Twardosz 37:25
Right? And that's why this world of really good producer reps or consultants, or what have you, we all know this, and that's why we can we can charge a little bit also because we can give you the right advice. It's not about making, you know, a return on investment. It really isn't. It's about propelling your career. And that's why again, we focus on festivals a lot and that's why we focus you know, I'm getting you know, good distribution. And good distribution doesn't always make a lot of money either. But you know, but the festival thing really does matter. Because if you get into right festivals, it can really help you. And so we focus a lot on that. Um, so yeah, those two paths are interesting, but if all you want to do is make money, then yes, make a movie like air but or if you make a horror film, because you know, everybody thinks Oh, I'll just make a horror film. I'll make a lot of money. But that's not true. Because because there's a glut of horror films, but there's not a glut of air button movies. Yeah. Yeah, you have to make an either elevated horror film, or you have to give us something we just haven't seen before.

Alex Ferrari 38:29
Can you give us an example of an elevated horror film for the audience?

Sebastian Twardosz 38:32
Well I mean people will say you know saw the original saw was a Sundance movie by the way it was in Sundance

Alex Ferrari 38:40
Midnight Yeah, yeah. Blair Witch Right,

Sebastian Twardosz 38:43
Right. Blair Witch as well right? I don't know that I would call Blair Witch elevated Blair Witch was just new at the time because of the way

Alex Ferrari 38:53
It was an anomaly basically created a genre created genre.

Sebastian Twardosz 38:57
Yeah, because look, here's why you know, it's an anomaly because look at what the guys who made it have gone on to do which there hasn't been anything really major whereas the song guys Oh, yeah, careers have taken off so they were not an anomaly. They know. They've it's legal now and James one they've they've both like, done it more than once now. I mean, look at their credits. So that's how you know they're not one hit wonders, they, they know what they're doing. Yeah, but that I guess you can call an elevated just means that let me just put, this is how I phrase it. If you're going to make a horror film, just make sure this is the film. If you're only going to make one film and your entire life. You get one shot. Put as much effort, you know, into that horror film, and pretend it's the only film you'll ever ever make because actually chances are might be actually the only film you ever make. But as much effort and time into that as you would like if you were writing. I don't know Dead Poets Society or Amadeus or, or you know, Shakespeare in Love or it Any you know The Revenant? What at what? What whatever movie you think is an awesome movie that won an Oscar, you know the Birdman or what have you put as much effort into your horror movie as you would into that. And that will probably make it better. And that includes with the script, by the way, because it all does start with the script. So yeah, that's my long winded answer to like the the two paths to take

Alex Ferrari 40:24
Now with with that, which is something I kind of talked about a little bit as well is, you know, finding your voice and finding your point of view, like you pointed out, can you go a little bit more into dealing like the voice of a screenwriter and too many ways of voice or perspective of a director? Because obviously the strong the people who've all made it in this business, they all have very strong points of view, or very strong voices. I mean, Tarantino's voice is, it's like a bullhorn. You know? And you know, Scorsese, and even Spielberg and Fincher, they all have such a strong, distinct point of view, voice style. Can you talk a little bit about that? Cuz I think a lot of filmmakers that make movies today that just slap stuff together and try to copy somebody else, or have no real point of view that just kind of putting it out there just to say, Hey, I made a movie.

Sebastian Twardosz 41:16
Well, let me give you an example of voice. I'm actually because I'm, I start my one class at USC tonight, so I happen to have my syllabus, everything from I'm gonna give you an example. I will attribute this to a friend, a good friend of mine, his name is Alex liftback. And he's a screenwriter. You can look him up, he's made some rent some good movies. He's also an executive at 20th Century Fox. He's a great guy, but he said this was one of my classes. I wrote it down because I liked it so much. So here's an exact example of it. And then now we can talk about it. It'd be short. So here's here's a very good well written piece of screenplay which I'll read to you in a second. There's nothing wrong with it's well written, but it doesn't have voice and now read to you the version that that's so here we go. Ready? interior Jack's apartment night. jack is asleep on this couch. There's a knock on his front door. He stirs awake as Jane enters. Perfectly competent, well written. Sure. Fine. But it lacks voice. So here's voice ready. Interior Jack's apartment night. What a shithole. That's actually a compliment. Jack's asleep on his couch. There's a knock in his front door, he stirs awake, Jane enters, she can stop traffic, air traffic.

Alex Ferrari 42:36
Ohh Jesus.

Sebastian Twardosz 42:38
The difference ultimately, the differences, yes, it has taught first there's tone, there's attitude and the writing. But if you if you if you're listening to it, it's visual. You know, like he says, what a shithole instantly in your mind, you're thinking okay, he's got you know, it's apartments a show, you can picture. You know, Jane and her, they don't describe Jane, they just say she can stop traffic, air traffic. And in your mind, you whatever you, the reader, or listener thinks is the hottest woman that could walk in the room will come up in your mind. It's visual. So voice is as a couple things, as a writer, and then as a director is slightly different. But because obviously you can do your your visuals, but as a writer, it's, it's about it's about tone, and feeling you and the ability to make somebody picture something in their mind. But it's also the ability to make somebody feel ultimately your voices can you this is this entire business ultimately is can you make either the real reader feel something, or the viewer in a movie theater feel something, it's all about feelings? Really, that's all it is. And people who have a voice are a master of getting the reader to feel something. But one way of doing that is obviously getting them the picture. So you know, that that has a lot to do with voice. The other thing is don't self censor, that ultimately are no rules. Yes, you have to know how to write a good screenplay. So read a lot and I mean a lot of screenplays, but really there are no rules. So you don't have to necessarily be grammatically correct. You can say anything, never self censored. I always say in class, I mean, I mean, look at bridesmaids, you've got a you've got you know, you know you've got a fat chick taking a dump in a sink. In the I mean, okay, there's nothing, anyone, nothing you can write, the people in Hollywood will get offended by or whatever. It's like, if it's if you want to be funny than be funny. If you want to be serious, to be serious, but never self censor. And, you know, take risks, and just, you kind of want to be yourself. Be yourself in your writing. Then that's, that's what you want to be

Alex Ferrari 45:00
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. And it's I think, is a general thing as an artist, any artist anywhere in any any form is about being yourself. And also the confidence that the confidence is so good when you when like that second piece that you wrote, it took a lot more balls to write that kind of way than it did the first time. And you can call it voice, but it's also confidence because you know what a shithole? A lot of people like I'm not going to curse in a script, what am I going to, but that's not the proper way. I haven't read it like that. But you see, you already said that little voice craps into your head, but there's that then you got that guy who's just really confident just like boom, what a shithole what, or this or that. And that's that. And that's what people I think, in a lot of ways really are attracted to,

Sebastian Twardosz 45:54
I actually talk about confidence in class. So you totally nailed it. There's another word for it too, though. Confidence is the right word. But it's also it's called being in control of your story. The, it's like when you're giving a pitch to somebody, or when you're talking to somebody about what you want to make, they have to have a sense that you are in control of your story. And being in control of it means you are confident. And yes, because it's like dating, I mean, there's always analogies to dating. Yes. If you can be confident that's not cocky per se, but confident that that shows strength, and it shows that you really know your characters, you really you control the scene. And that's also what I mean by don't don't self censor, don't.

Alex Ferrari 46:40
Yeah, I know, a lot of a lot of young writers and a lot of filmmakers will censor themselves before they ever come out the gate. And I'm like, Look, other people are going to try to censor you. Why are you going to try to censor yourself before you come out the gate?

Sebastian Twardosz 46:50
Let other people do that. Because that's what happens, you know, good scripts, watered down. You know, by the way, one of the best scripts I ever read a long time ago. And anybody in the business back then will tell you this was in the mid 90s, again, was a script called East Grand Rapids. Hi, do you know what that will have never know which one was at East Grand Rapids high was I still have a draft of that, by the way.

Alex Ferrari 47:10
Oh, it's American Pie.

Sebastian Twardosz 47:11
It's American Pie.

Alex Ferrari 47:12
It's American Pie. I thought so. Yeah.

Sebastian Twardosz 47:14
Well, we read that because I was a creative executive at the time. People in the business was passing that script around. Like it was like it was butter, like it was chocolate got sold for a record amount. I remember cuz, see, everyone sees that movie, in the sense of having seen the movie, right? And it seemed the sequence which obviously aren't as good, but when you read that fresh, and there was no movies or nothing to look at, it was incredibly well written. well written and not censored, believe me at all. And it was hilarious. And you know, it just it kept hitting a nerve. I'm like, Oh, yeah, I did that. Or Yeah, that's funny. That happened to me, or somebody I knew bla bla bla, and it was not sent self censored. So I'm just, you know, go for it.

Alex Ferrari 48:02
Right. I mean, there was that movie, which I heard the script was made. I read the script. It was amazing. And it was much different than the movie was last Boy Scout. Shane Black script. Yeah. Original I was it sold for like 3.5 million back in the day or something like that. Yeah. And it was remarkable. And they changed the you know, they changed the daymond Wayne character from a wisecracking black guy to from a surfer dude, if I remember correctly in the original script, or something like that. It's stuff like that happens all the time, but at least shamed and watered down his version. He just Yeah,

Sebastian Twardosz 48:36
I don't know. I don't think Yeah, he's another one of these guys. Like if you read his scripts, it's it's awesome. By the way, there's a really good article, I think in Hollywood Reporter right now, about Shane Black, and his hay days. And he's, you know, he's coming back and he has a new movie coming out.

Alex Ferrari 48:50
I can't wait to see it, too. It looks amazing.

Sebastian Twardosz 48:52
Yeah. These guys know how to write Oh, yeah, I think there was no holds barred.

Alex Ferrari 48:56
Yeah, no question. So to go back to film festivals real quick, would you suggest that if a film if a filmmaker gets into a let's say Sundance, and they are not on track to get a let's say a distribution deal, like cuz there's I know a lot of Sundance, you know, you know, winners, that never got a deal because of the kind of tone to the movie or something along those lines, would you suggest that they they like maybe do a quick one week self distribution, you know, digital, digital streaming version of him like, Hey, you know, it's only after Sundance special only a week later. You can watch it here because all the attention is going to be on them, they'll probably never get as much attention on the film ever again. So would you leverage that?

Sebastian Twardosz 49:39
I don't know that it works. I'll tell you. Slam dance is doing that now like slam dance, will actually can actually distribute your movie for you because they're trying to make that work. Sundance hasn't quite done that yet. Tribeca is doing it, you know, because Tribeca films also distributes a little bit. It's interesting, it The real problem is that there are It's an ocean of movies now. It's all about marketing really it's about getting people's attention so I don't know that doing it on your own works I have to tell you I have never seen it I've only seen it work in very specific forms I'll tell you what they are because I have my in it's it's just it doesn't seem to work with narrative films at all it kind of works with in the non narrative space. Like there was there was a movie about like the education system that's making a fortune. Right now that's all self distributed.

Alex Ferrari 50:38
Yeah, Doc Doc's do very well with that model. I've seen many Doc's do extremely well,

Sebastian Twardosz 50:42
yeah, yeah, they seem to do better, but narratives. Not so much. I'm actually trying to find the name of the slipping my mind,

Alex Ferrari 50:50
What I mean. And from my experience, there have been films, the independent films that have done well, it's self distributed, but again, their budget levels have to be extremely low, the the audience,

Sebastian Twardosz 51:02
Remember any of them cuz I

Alex Ferrari 51:04
Camp Dakota, I remember was one that they did. That was a bunch of YouTube stars put together but they had a huge audience. So they saw they had the marketing because of the YouTubes. But that's my point. Like, there is a way to do it, but it takes a lot of work. And you've got to build up an audience and you've got to be able to leverage people's audiences to be able to sell them and so on. So if again, it depends on the budget. And if you if you make that movie for 5 million bucks, it's not gonna make money. But if you made that movie for, let's say, 100 grand, and they have 5 million followers, or the group of them have 15 million followers, you know, chances are you're going to be able to make your money back between that and

Sebastian Twardosz 51:42
By the way, I believe that's true. Although I also know the opposite. I do know some other YouTubers who have tried it, they have their very highly ranked channel in the comedy space. And they made their first feature and they got no traction. They even told me it's different. It's so interesting, because I asked him the same time like you guys have you know, 5 million people right? A lot of followers right and a lot of hits and they have some very successful YouTube series literally if I set it right now some of your mailing address right would know it i'm sure and I asked them well why they said to me Look, we even tried to fight you know, they we tried to crowdfund the movie that was one of their things but they had so many followers and it failed they didn't get that much money and they said look the peep the audience wants you know a certain thing they want their the the YouTube series you know that they've been producing they'll watch that but when it comes to because that's all free mind you but when it comes to pay putting extra money down into a crowdfunding campaign it the turnover from like fans to like oh contributors was shockingly low

Alex Ferrari 53:01
Well no the the I

Sebastian Twardosz 53:03
And the same with getting district it took them I would say a year and a half to finally get distributed and honestly I don't know that that the movie was profitable

Alex Ferrari 53:14
Well what's what's interesting is I actually had a I was talking to the head of seed and spark which is a crowdfunding website Emily and she was telling me I'm like what's the most successful when you guys have had and they said well it was this web series and they were able to generate like 100 $150,000 crowdfunding So it all depends a case by case basis it all depends on the audience yeah because if you're into like slapstick haha videos and you might have 5 million people who just like enjoy that but they're not really into that you know they're not going to put out but if you have a put out cash on a crowdfunding thing or or support your feature but there's just all depends on the personality it depends on the channel depends on the the celebrity the YouTube celebrity to you know what kind of content that is so it can be done but it is very strategic thing to do and it takes time to build up even once you have it.

Sebastian Twardosz 54:04
Right and I don't know well here's the thing The bottom line is I don't know that there is a path that if you do ABC Yeah, all the way to z that you will get the result I think it's more about that there is luck as part of it right place right time right movie, right? You know, you cannot believe me if anyone has tried to control their career in this business, you know, their path, it was me, believe me, you know, and I couldn't do it. And I know lots of people you know, it's just certain opportunities come up. Same thing with films so um, I don't think you can ever mirror anyone else's success. It's it is tough. You do have to there is like there's a direction like, you know, you have to go west. Okay. West. There's lots of different paths to go west. And yes, some people go, you know, through more, you know, Warren path, but that doesn't, you know, but there's also You know, a lot of people, it's a worn path. So predators and bad guys know people are going down that path, you might get hit on that path, you know, as a bad analogy.

Alex Ferrari 55:08
No, no, it's a good analogy. Actually, I completely understand what you're saying. Yeah, absolutely.

Sebastian Twardosz 55:12
So So it's, it's, it's, you know, you can only do what you can do, and you have to hope that you're meeting the right people along the way. And it's never the same right people every single time, but you can, you can, you know, educate yourself to the best that you can embark on it, know what you're getting into, be realistic, you know, and, and if you succeed at the end, great, try and help other people. If you don't succeed, well, you know, it's kind of like when you get knocked down, get, get back up and do it again.

Alex Ferrari 55:47
I didn't mean the, I think the best advice I've ever heard was just do the best work you can at all times. And you really won't know what because you'll plan some things out. But like anything in life, plans go out the window, and you'll meet this one person and this one person knows this other person and, and then all of a sudden, they're like, oh, I've met you at a Starbucks and oh, well, let's, you know, go let's go have the drinks. And all of a sudden, oh, hey, I love your movie. Let me give it over to my friend and who's my friend, I just happen to know, Will Smith I went to school with Well, you know what I mean? And then all of a sudden, things like that happen. It happens all the time. Yes. But you just have to put yourself in a position to be at the right place at the right time with the right project, movie idea, things like that. And I always tell people, you know, the very famous legendary mythical story of Robert Rodriguez. With a mariachi, it's, he was at the right place at the right time with the right movie. And if he shows up today, I'm not sure if he gets the action.

Sebastian Twardosz 56:46
It's right, you just have to you have to have your at bats, you just have to get out there and produce whatever it is you're producing. Like, I'm a big believer, and I think about this all the time. Because, you know, because I do all kinds of things in the business. And I haven't done all the things I've wanted to do. And I'm still very hungry for doing some of those things. But you just, you know, it's, it's about ultimately, to me, what I value the most is creators. Mm hmm. You know, so whatever it is, but you are creating something, whether it's a book, a YouTube series, a feature, or whatever you've created, it is a big deal. Yes, eventually, you could go on and make, you know, Civil War, which we were suppose are doing, but they've already announced their next film. And it's an original film that they want to do. Because they're that that's always for two filmmakers. That's always going to be there. Yes, you'll go and make the big movies because it's fun. And part of this has to be fun. But ultimately, you want to create something new that you know, because really civil, it's Stan Lee, right? It all just goes back to Stan Lee, he's the Creator. So you know, you you just, that's what I value is the people who can just create something from nothing, and put something out there for other people to enjoy. And that again, that goes back to distribution for indie films, ultimately, because you there is no one that can guarantee you will profit because look different people make a movie a different way. Like Alex, you know, you're embarking on a movie. Yes. And you know, I might embark let's say in exactly the same movie, I bet you can make that movie cheaper and better than I could the same movie because you know, all the technical stuff a lot better than I do. You know, and I think you know, the ins and outs of that better so you're going to make we can make exactly the same movie. I bet you could bring it in, let's say you know, whatever, you know, you can bring it in for a million dollars, I bring in exactly the same movie for $2 million. Right? So obviously you're gonna have a profit before I will with the exact same movie. But that happens all the time with indie films so so you know, it's not about profitability. It's about making the best movie you can make getting it into the best festivals getting people to see it to propel your career that's really what it is. If you want to just make money okay, well then go make air but you know make a lots of air buds Yeah, yeah, make everybody go go make which is completely fine movie. I actually can't you know, I have kids, I wouldn't mind making one really, really good Air Bud movie for them to enjoy. But, but you know, you're just going to be making those kinds of movies or if you just want to make b b thrillers, you can make money with B thrillers, you know, you can do that, um, but that won't necessarily elevate your career or get you an Oscar or get you, you know, you know, like the Russo brothers, you know, into the stratosphere of a career.

Alex Ferrari 59:33
Right! Exactly, exactly. Now, with that said, What do you think in your opinion has changed the most in the film distribution landscape and what stays the same? Because a lot of things have changed over the overall

Sebastian Twardosz 59:45
What's the biggest change was fine because a lot of things have actually changed the same to really the biggest changes this there's just more and more and more movies. There. You know, it's like there used to be, you know, 10s of 1000s of screenplays every year to two You know, to get through now there's 10s of 1000s of movies just right. There's so many movies. So that's, that's what's changed. What hasn't changed is I think actually distribution hasn't really changed that much. It's all the pipes are still, you know, yes, we now have the internet and all that stuff. But as you I'm sure well know Alex, you know those pipes the internet pipes are controlled by the major media companies they just are. You know what, people now instead of like, you know, when I was young we only had three channels. Okay, well, we have more channels now but really everyone's still want only watching like Netflix or HBO or whatever, still basically watching a smallish number of channels because there's only so many hours in the day, right? So you know, and that those pipes are there. I don't know what the right word is. I'm searching for the right word. But those pipes are monetized and controlled by corporations. And then DIY to my knowledge has not worked because I can't think of one that has. The only exception being that one Judd Apatow one that he produced.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:12
On a Louie ck Lucy Kay put out his stand up. concert ck is famous already. Right? That's my point, like but but for someone like him who has that audience, he's able to monetize it fairly easily. And there's been a lot of guys who've done that on the comedic on the comedy side, because they were like, Well, wait a minute, why do I have to go through Comedy Central, I could just put it out on myself. And I control everything.

Sebastian Twardosz 1:01:35
But you have to get to that level, like most of us, not at that level

Alex Ferrari 1:01:38
Right! Right?

Sebastian Twardosz 1:01:39
So that's the thing. I'm, you know, we're really dependent on festivals, to indie filmmakers, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:01:47
It's very again, and the festival or the festival to my pitch from in my opinion is only there not only to propel and to showcase filmmakers, but in the right festival, all the eyes of the industry are on that festival. So that's why the festivals matter is because

Sebastian Twardosz 1:02:01
Yeah, it's discovering new talent.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:02
Right! Right!

Sebastian Twardosz 1:02:03
Oh, point. That's why I put so much emphasis into helping people get into, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:02:07
One of the things for us, right, exactly. And that's, that's always the key with with, it's just getting eyeballs on your movie. And festivals are still a very, very big part of that. And if you can find other ways of getting eyes on movies, whether that be putting it on, like you know a lot of guys, right, you know, do direct a short, that's a killer short, and they put up online and it goes viral. And all of a sudden, some executives are seeing it like, Hey, you come over here and direct who's the guy?

Sebastian Twardosz 1:02:31
Yeah, you don't even have to make a feature. And I that's one of the things I'm gonna be talking about in class. A couple weeks, you know, I don't really know why make a feature, if you can make an incredibly good short, and do achieve the same results as a feature.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:47
Depends, again, it all depends on it's all case by case.

Sebastian Twardosz 1:02:50
Yes, it is case by case, I completely agree. But I'm just saying that if if what people are thinking I have to make a feature to prove that I can make a feature, that's just not true. I'll give an example right now. Wes ball who directed Maze Runner, you know, here's a special effects guy, he made a short film called ruin. That's what got him the directing job. And I can think of other people, you know, I did a whole interview with Luke Greenfield who directs comedies on the insiders. And he, he made one of the best shorts ever, no visual effects. just freaking great. I think you can find it on YouTube, I have the link to it. But just look it up. It's called the right hook. And just Google that, and maybe Luke's named Luke Greenfield, and hopefully it come up. And that's the movie is a short film that got him his first feature. And so you know, and that movies really good. You'll see, like, holy cow, is this great movie. And it's like, you know, sometimes I look at, like, when you make a feature, you're just giving yourself more time, more time to stumble and fail. Really good short film for 10 minutes. It's kind of controlled and contained environment, as opposed to 110 minutes. You know,

Alex Ferrari 1:04:01
There's I mean, there's a lot of different opinions of that. I mean, I know a lot of guys, I've you know, I've done some I've done some shorts that have done obscene amounts of business and a lot of attention and all that kind of stuff years ago. And then then I kept getting Well, you know, can you do it each? Can you direct a feature, we have to see you do a feature? And then vice versa? You know, like, I don't know, there's just so many different,

Sebastian Twardosz 1:04:23
Right! And that's where agents and managers come in. Yes, absolutely. Her team. That's like I said, you know, we're all going west high. There's a lot of different ways to get there. And we all want to get to Hollywood, right? Right. We know the endpoint. There's a lot of ways to get to Hollywood.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:41
No, there's no no question about it. Now I'll ask you one last question before I ask you my standard three last questions.

Sebastian Twardosz 1:04:48
Okay, good cuz I because I my pain medications wearing off. Okay. I was in a very bad accident this weekend. Oh, er, so I'm actually on pain medication. Okay, I feel wearing off.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:58
Alright, so I'll hurry then. What would you say to someone who loves movies and just wants to get into the business and make a living in the business? Like someone just fresh green right off the boat?

Sebastian Twardosz 1:05:10
Well, I strongly believe you have to come to Los Angeles, I believe that you have to make a lot of friends. And I believe you should help your friends. I'll just leave it at that. I mean, I could tell you the actual steps and things you should do. But it comes down to that.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:30
Those are the core those are the core things you need to do. Yeah. And when Yeah, because those friends are the ones are going to help you get your projects may get you connected to other people and you help you they help jobs, everything, everything, the whole ball of wax, and that gets you started. Alright, so what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

Sebastian Twardosz 1:05:49
Grass is always greener, or seems to be, um, you look at other people and their careers or their success or whatever in life or whatever it is. Don't worry about what other people are doing. Just worry about what you're doing.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:05
Great advice. What are your three favorite films of all time? no particular order?

Sebastian Twardosz 1:06:11
Well, my favorite film of all time is at Okay, I really have one that then i would say i don't i don't put them in any order. I only have one favorite film. That's that and now I would say you know, you know it's my generation. So you know, I love Star Wars. Sure. I love you know Dead Poets Society. Toy Story, Forrest Gump. You know Raiders of Lost Ark. You know, some movies that people don't talk about much by love, like Amadeus. Love Like, this is also really phenomenal.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:45
Those are all good ones. Those are all good ones.

Sebastian Twardosz 1:06:47
Yeah. And Spielberg Lucas Spielberg generations Meccas? You know, Ready Player One?

Alex Ferrari 1:06:52
Yes. Now what? Where can people find you?

Sebastian Twardosz 1:06:57
Oh, well, I'm easy to find. Well, you can Google my name, which is hard. Sebastian Twardosz. Good luck. But you could just I guess the easiest way is just google Circus Road Films. Okay, because that takes you to our website for our company and my emails right there. Okay. Or, you know, my email is just [email protected] for you Just email Sebastian. I actually have a website Yeah, just www.SebastianTwardosz.com.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:26
I'll put that in the show. I'll put that in the show notes. And nobody needs to figure out how to spell your last name.

Sebastian Twardosz 1:07:30
Yeah. But the websites good because it has some links to all my shows. on there. Links to my classes link to my Facebook. I have a really good Facebook page. Actually, this would be great. I think it's good anyway, it's just called the insiders on Facebook. And it's got kind of like a, like a godfather like icon. The hands with the with the cross. Anyway, yeah, I'm pretty easily fundable.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:56
I'll put I'll put all those links in the show notes. Guys. Sebastian, I know you're in pain, man. So thank you so much for doing this interview. Man. I really appreciate it.

Sebastian Twardosz 1:08:04
Thank you. I really enjoyed it a lot. And by the way, your site, and all the things that you do, I think I've been nominal. Thank you, man. I mean, really good. I have to get to know you a little bit better. And I'm gonna invite you to my class that I want you to speak. Oh, thank you so much. Now I know for sure. I just want to kind of wrap my head around, like the right. Right, right place to bring you in at what you're doing is really great. So congrats.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:30
Thanks again, my friend. I appreciate it and feel better.

Sebastian Twardosz 1:08:33
Thank you. Bye!

YOUTUBE VIDEO

LINKS

SPONSORS

  1. Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  2. AudibleGet a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook
  3. Rev.com – $1.25 Closed Captions for Indie Filmmakers – Rev ($10 Off Your First Order)

IFH 067: Film Festival Secrets – How to Crack the Festival Code

Right-click here to download the MP3

Submitting to film festivals is torture. Did I get in? Did the programmer watch it yet? When will I know? How much to submit? You wait by your email to see if Sundance or SXSW accepted you? Wouldn’t it be amazing if you had some insight into the film festival process? Maybe even some Film Festival Secrets?

On the show today I have one of the leading authorities on film festivals, Chris Holland from Film Festival Secrets.comThe man literally wrote the book on the subjectFilm Festival Secrets: A Handbook For Independent Filmmakers.

Chris decodes the mystery that is film festival submissions and drops some knowledge bombs on us. Now if you are a listener of the show you also know that Chris and I created a one of a kind course on Film Festivals called Film Festival Hacks: Submit Like a Pro Course but what you may not know is we also created a FREE Podcast Series called the Film Festival Hacks Podcast. We should be launching that podcast in a couple of weeks.

It’ll be packed with info on the inner workings of film festivals, submission strategies and more. So check back here and I’ll put a link up when the show goes live! Until then enjoy my conversation with Chris Holland.

Alex Ferrari 1:11
In this episode of our film festivals we have the leading authority on film festivals, the man who literally wrote the book on it, his name is Chris Holland. We've talked about him before. He's my co instructor on the film festival hacks course. He runs an amazing website called Film Festival secrets calm. Chris has been in the film festival game for over a decade now. And he created Film Festival secrets to kind of help other filmmakers and understand the process because it was kind of like a mystery. And he had seen all the behind the scenes stuff of how film festivals work. These work that's a major film festivals around the country, and really has an insight that was rare, and decided to write the book literally the book on a call Film Festival secrets. And later he opened up Film Festival secrets.com to help and consult filmmakers on their films how to submit to properly to film festivals, what festivals to submit to and so on. So wanted to bring them on the show and really kind of break down and get some inside information on what it really takes to get into film festivals and how to use film festivals for what they're what they're worth and what they can do for you and leverage them and not to be taken advantage by the process and not to throw money away. Because I've been in over 600 Film Festivals with all my projects over the years. And believe me I've lost 1000s of dollars in submission processes and traveling to festivals and things like that. And you know Chris really talks a lot about what to do how to be strategic with your money, how to be strategic with your time and make it work for you guys so without further ado, here is my interview with Chris Holland. May I introduce to our indie film hustlers the man the myth the legend Chris Holland. Thank you sir.

Chris Holland 2:54
You say that to all boys don't you?

Alex Ferrari 2:56
I say that to everyone sir. But but but with you. I say it's special.

Chris Holland 3:01
I feel duly special. How are you man?

Alex Ferrari 3:05
I'm doing great. Talk to you. I've been trying to get Chris on the show for God months now. We've been friends for a while and we're like, I can't get you on the show. Gotta get you on the show Got Game Show. We just never would never get around to it. Though. We talk all the time. We just never got around to it. So we finally set a time and I wanted to share all of Chris's amazing film festival knowledge with the with the tribe. So my first question, Chris, is how did you get into the film festival game?

Chris Holland 3:33
Uh, well, back in the dark days of the early internet, let's say 96' 97'.

Alex Ferrari 3:40
Rough times rough.

Chris Holland 3:44
I was a film critic, one of the very first what would later become bloggers. I want to tell you how special this was Alex, it was so special that it I think it was 99 my co writer and I actually got written up in the New York Times for reviewing Godzilla movies on the internet. I kid you not

Alex Ferrari 4:06
You got to be kidding. So there literally was nobody doing this.

Chris Holland 4:10
It was a brand new thing. Guys who review weird movies on the internet that is worthy of a New York Times article. It's framed on my office wall. Brilliant. Yeah. Anyway, but as time went on, you know, we thought man, we're gonna make some money on this internet film criticism stuff. No. When it became apparent that everybody in his dog was going to be reviewing movies on the internet. You know, I looked around for something else. And that's something else. Very soon became film festivals. Not that there's a ton of money in film festivals. But I eventually fell in with a distributor that was doing very interesting things that included film festivals in a big way. So I got to know two or 300 different Film Festival directors and You know, the rest is history I worked for. I worked on staff at four film festivals now. Austin, Atlanta, Oxford, and Portland. And you know, it's been a great ride.

Alex Ferrari 5:12
Nice to say. So, um, are the magic of our festivals even relevant nowadays, like for filmmakers to submit? Because I mean, in the world that we are today, like I know, before, it was the only way to kind of get noticed. But now with all the stuff that happens online, is it even relevant?

Chris Holland 5:28
Oh, I think, you know, this is a question that gets asked about once a year at somebody's conference or whatever, or in a blog or festivals still a thing? Yeah, of course they are. Of course, film festivals are still a thing. Sundance just made its largest ever, you know, now that they sold the film, but the film is sold during the festival.

Alex Ferrari 5:48
17.5 million.

Chris Holland 5:51
Yeah. So just because new doors open in the world of indie film doesn't mean that the old ones disappear. If anything, festivals are more relevant, because they're the only ones who are willing to go through the 1000s of movies that get made every year to find the good stuff. And let me tell you, there's more and more of these films being made every year. Submission rates go up and up and up. Every Film Festival everywhere touts its, you know, record breaking number of submissions every year. It's not like they're doing anything to earn that film right? coming to them. Right. So next time you hear a festival go, we had a record breaking 5000 films this year, you know, recognize that's a big number, but it just is the rising tide lifting all the boats, somebody's got to go through all those films. Somebody's got to figure out what what the good is and what the bad is. And I don't see the distributors looking to do that, you know, that's a labor of love. festivals are the ones who who have that love.

Alex Ferrari 6:51
Are there. Is there any money to be made at film festivals? Like I know, obviously Sundance in Toronto and the big boys but like, you know, Moose Jaw Film Festival somewhere in the middle of the country? Is it? Are they making money? Like how what's the what's the financial scenario with money with festivals?

Chris Holland 7:07
If you're talking about the festivals themselves, yes, there are many festivals that are run as nonprofits, most of them are run as nonprofits, okay, that doesn't mean that there is no profit involved. But very often the kind of people that you get who start a film festival, you know, to them nonprofit means so long as they break even there. Okay. So there's, you know, a lot of festivals are on the edge, a lot of them shut down in 2008 910. You know, when sponsorship money dried up, there are festivals that do very well, that are run smartly. and South by Southwest is a for profit endeavor.

Alex Ferrari 7:44
That's a monster.

Chris Holland 7:45
Yeah. there's money to be made. But you have to look at it as a business. When it comes to, is there money for filmmakers at festivals? Probably no, generally not. Generally, it is a way to get other benefits, which we can talk about later on. But, you know, with a few exceptions, you know, either niche content or films that are so you know, upper level that they already have distribution. There's no money changing hands between festivals and filmmakers,

Alex Ferrari 8:22
Generally, but there are prizes and things like that sometimes,

Chris Holland 8:25
Sure. But I wouldn't that's that's not a business model. Right? That's

Alex Ferrari 8:30
The business model for a filmmaker like, I'm going to make him submit and it's $10,000 at first price. So obviously, I'm going to get that right. That's more of a lottery ticket mentality. So so you just got back from South by Southwest? I've never been to the South by Southwest Film Festival. I've been to many other ones. I've never been to that one. Can you tell the audience a little bit of what you saw there this year, and how things have changed since last time you were there? And any any good gossip?

Chris Holland 9:01
Any good guys. Number Number one, Austin is changing. You know, for those who may have been there in the past, but haven't been a few years. Austin itself is almost unrecognizable. And I think that is a direct impact that South by Southwest has South by Southwest, you know, brought all of these creative and technically inclined people to Austin, who figured out how cool it was started moving there started starting companies there which brought the bigger tech companies who Facebook Google, you know, they brought their offices to Austin. And so now there's all of this technology industry, you know, building up there and they need offices, they need housing, but in a more direct way. There are more hotels and conference spaces in theaters in Austin than ever before. So they are quite literally changing the face of what Austin looks like from a festival perspective. You know, it's much the same as it was with the exception of sort of this sprawl of venues, they've opened satellite venues, they've colonized some live theater spaces. So it's actually a lot harder to get it a lot harder, it's harder to get a diverse sampling of things that you want to see because like films tend to get programmed at like venues. So tentpole features are going to play at the Paramount or a larger venue like that, and smaller indie films are going to play it's at smaller venues like the Alamo, Ritz. And then shorts, for some reason, all got, you know, sort of,

Alex Ferrari 10:43
In the bathroom,

Chris Holland 10:45
Well no not in the bathroom, and they had decent sized spaces, because there are lots of filmmakers who show up for those, right, they're all traveling in from out of town and those who are local or bring like, so they need space, but they're not getting the cherry downtown spaces that they could be. And that's it. They're not being exiled or anything, but they are, you know, it's get on a shuttle kind of thing. And so if you're going to do that, you want to spend as little time as possible sitting on a bus traveling between you want to be doing stuff, right. So if you're going to see short films, it makes a lot more sense to just spend a day at the venue where the shorts are being played, and watch a bunch of them. Got it. So the changes to South by Southwest that I see are logistical. And maybe that's just like, my brain like that's what I'm looking for. But artistically, I think they are as adventurous as they ever were. They're getting better and bigger sort of premiere type things like they had PBS big holiday. And you know, all they had that midnight Keanu screening. So there's more demand and more stuff. They're trying to stuff in the same amount of time. But it's still got that South by Southwest flavor.

Alex Ferrari 11:59
So it seems like South and again, this might be a horrible analogy, but it seems like it's it's a Sundance meets Comic Con because it's so big in scope. No, obviously not comic book stuff. But studios are starting to come in there. And there's and it's not just a film festival. It's a music festival. And it's also a technology festival. Correct.

Chris Holland 12:16
Right. So the three different sections of South by Southwest are music, which was its primary purpose from the beginning, film and interactive, Thurman interactive begin on the Friday of the first weekend. And film continues basically through the following week. I don't think it plays into the next weekend. But I could be wrong about that. And then interactive is only four or five days long. That takes place over that first weekend into like the that Tuesday. And then music starts up on Wednesday of the middle of that weekend plays through the following weekend. So it's actually these three things all taking place at once. Some of the film and interactive things overlap in terms of programming, like their panels that you can go to. If you have a film badge, there are films you can go to if you have an interactive badge, and then you know music and film also overlap in certain places. So there's a lot to get out of it.

Alex Ferrari 13:20
Sounds exhausting.

Chris Holland 13:21
It is exhausting. I was only there for five days and basically needed another week to get over it.

Alex Ferrari 13:27
Like Sundance is exactly like Sunday.

Chris Holland 13:31
Without the 12 pounds of additional clothing that you need to wear.

Alex Ferrari 13:34
Yes In the end, you can't breathe because you're at 5000 feet or over high you are

Chris Holland 13:41
but it has its own challenges for sure.

Alex Ferrari 13:43
What is your favorite film festival you've been at? Like that you absolutely just love the vibe and love the whole thing.

Chris Holland 13:49
As an attendee, the first five years of Fantastic Fest were my favorite film festival experience ever. I have not been since then. I think it's probably been five or six years since I've been to a Fantastic Fest and that just because of bad scarcity pay and the fact that I don't live in Austin. But when I was living in Austin, it was hands down like it's one of the few festivals where I went every time there was a film playing I was in a theater because the films themselves were so exciting and I wasn't going to chance to see them anywhere else. And man What a great just like film purist environment as an industry member, I mean south by is right up there. And there's so many good ones. I had a really good time in Toronto. I think hotdocs if you're a documentary filmmaker, there are a few few places that are better to be than hotbox and you know what? sidewalk birmingham alabama

Alex Ferrari 14:56
so yeah, heard about the sidewalk. Okay.

Chris Holland 14:59
You have heard me ramble on about the Oxford film festival? Yes, yes. You know there there's some festivals in the deep south, which is where I'm living now Atlanta that are just, you know, top notch in terms of like, small town audience feel they take care of the filmmakers, you know, Oxford and indie Memphis and sidewalk like these are great festivals.

Alex Ferrari 15:22
Awesome. Awesome. Now what are some of the benefits of screening at a film festival nowadays,

Chris Holland 15:27
I would say the three primary benefits these days are the credibility that you get from you know, a festival putting its stamp of approval on your film. The opportunity to build an audience and you thereby get some distribution and the ability to sort of meet your peers and have a career day, meet other people in the industry and then make those connections that will serve you through your future projects.

Alex Ferrari 16:01
It's very true. I've met so many different people at these film festivals. It's it's not even funny. And it's like at Sundance in Toronto and things like that. And I think that sometimes smaller festivals depending on where you are, if you're if it's in your town, then it's very beneficial for you to network. But those bigger festivals you meet people that you might never have access to, especially like a Sundance, when I was living in Florida, I'd go to Sundance and you have la there. La is in a three block radius. Everybody walking the streets is in the business. The access you get is pretty remarkable. Would you agree?

Chris Holland 16:36
Oh yeah, absolutely. No question.

Alex Ferrari 16:38
No. Do you have any advice on how to choose the right Film Festival for filmmakers film?

Chris Holland 16:46
Well, there's a lot of legwork involved for sure. I think you can get a real Head Start by doing two things. Number one, go grab the list of Oscar accredited film festivals printed out and tear it up. Because those festivals you know that list of festivals is so over relied upon by filmmakers, that those festivals even though the Oscar accreditation is only for shorts, feature filmmakers use that list too. And so those those festivals are just overwhelmed with submissions, you are instantly putting yourself at a disadvantage by submitting to an Oscar accredited Film Festival. Anybody who works at an Oscar accredited to film festival like I did twice, both Austin and Atlanta. Who feels offended that that really shouldn't because you're getting so much more than your share of the of the independent films that are made over here. All right. You know, let's give some of the other festivals they're just as good. have just as many people coming to them who treat their filmmakers just as well. You know, let's give this a chance.

Alex Ferrari 17:58
Well, the magic question when you say Oscar accreditation, that's not for features. That's for shorts, right?

Chris Holland 18:03
That's correct. Yeah. No such thing as Oscar accreditation for features

Alex Ferrari 18:07
I've never seen I've never seen the winner of the Austin Film Festival up for best picture at the Oscars.

Chris Holland 18:13
No, I mean, you've seen films, the shorts laid down, of course, like Slumdog Millionaire, Wade,

Alex Ferrari 18:20
Little Miss Sunshine. Yeah. All those kind of films got it. Now, how do you leverage Film Festival screenings to help you get film your film distributed?

Chris Holland 18:30
Uh, there are a couple that are different things you can do, depending on who you are, and what you've got. I mean, number one, if you're playing in a major film festivals festival, and you're a feature, distributors are going to come to you. So that's, I mean, number one sort of mission accomplished right off the bat, you're putting your film in front of distributors. But if you're at a smaller festival, or a festival, where the distributors don't seem to be coming out of the woodwork to find you, I would use that opportunity to start building your audience and start collecting the names and email addresses of the people who are your fans who love your film. There was a film called it was by the Yes, men. Yes. And it was out by Southwest. Yeah. What was the name of that film?

Alex Ferrari 19:21
It was the one that was called the Yes Men, which was a documentary.

Chris Holland 19:25
It was called something like everybody hates the Yes, man. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 19:27
that was a sequel the I only saw the original one. But yeah, there's a sequel to it. Right?

Chris Holland 19:31
So you know, the these guys. It's a couple of performance artists, basically with a team of people around them. They played the sequel at South by Southwest. And this was I want to say six, seven years ago, literally had clipboards with signup sheets and in this 1400 seat, movie palace, they passed around clipboards and pens and got people to you know, sign up. Now that's an activist film where people are, you know, natural. inclined to want to be a part of what they're doing. But that's something you can do at any festival. You know, it's it's extremely difficult as a filmmaker with no existing audience to collect 300 signatures or 300 email addresses in one go on the internet. But at a film festival, well those people are sitting, you know, in the audience, they've just seen your film and are in love with you. It's really easy. So that's the kind of thing that distributors are looking for when you approach them. And you say, I know the names and email addresses of, you know, 2000 people that I've collected over the last year of being on the film festival circuit who are interested in this movie and will tell their friends if you can say that to a distributor your head and shoulders above pretty much anybody else? You know, approaching distributors because they don't think ahead to do that kind of thing.

Alex Ferrari 20:53
Yeah, distributors, I mean, they want as easy of a ride to make their money as possible. And if you can provide them with you know, a three or 4000 person list of people for your film, you're going to get a distribution deal so much faster. That's why a lot of these YouTube stars are creating their own projects and not even going to distributors distributing themselves. Okay, that brings me to a question. Can you talk a little bit about like, screw you know, if your internet if your movies on Vimeo or on YouTube and, you know, gets disqualified from film festivals? I know, that was a big thing when the internet first came out, is that still a thing? And how does that work?

Chris Holland 21:30
It's definitely still a thing. By and large, it's boy Howdy, is it still a thing with Oscar accreditation. So if you have any thoughts at all, you know, as to the future distribution, or no festival play of your film, do not make your film available publicly on YouTube, or Vimeo or any of that stuff until you've done those things. You know, a lot of people will tell you, it doesn't matter. And festivals are taking these things all the time. And it's true. There are a lot of festivals out there that are taking films that are available online. And that's totally cool of those festivals. But there's a lot of festivals that still aren't, and if you you know, unless you want to instantly cut your possible selection of film festivals in half, you know, just hold off on putting it online and and keep control of your assets. Because you don't want your editor or whatever. To mistakenly think that that's an okay thing to do.

Alex Ferrari 22:34
I have a crazy story of of one Sundance filmmaker who got into Sundance had a feature film. And he was in he was in competition. And I think a producer his put it out, it was on Vimeo with password. But he either accidentally or on purpose. pulled off the password for a day or two. And Sundance caught wind of it how I don't know, but they disqualified him and kick them out. And I'm sure that that boys still somewhere in a mental institution. Probably I mean, can you imagine Can you imagine?

Chris Holland 23:10
Oh, I would love to know like the real details behind that. Because you know, for a day or two that seems like something Sundance might forgive. But yeah, without knowing the specifics, you just shake your head and go. That's sucks dude.

Alex Ferrari 23:25
That's so well let me ask you. What are some of the craziest stories? you've you've been to a lot of film festival? What's some of the craziest stories you've ever heard?

Chris Holland 23:33
craziest stories I've ever heard? Well, I mean, some of the craziest stories I've ever seen. You know, filmmakers will do all kinds of things to promote their films sometimes at my urging. Friend of mine had a film called the Stanton family grave robbery. It sounds fantastic guy named Mark Potts, and I'll tell the story, but I want to go back to that title. And just the title is awesome, actually. So as part of the sort of promotion for his film, he and his like three or four cohorts who were at this was at the Austin Film Festival, they bought a coffin and carried it around with them and the coffin had like flyers taped to the side of it. Absolutely. When the screenings were and you know, it was it was it was this it was this Austin Film Fest. Oh, Jesus. And I know they did a couple basically anywhere they could drive to and shove this coffin in the back of the station wagon. They were ridiculous.

Alex Ferrari 24:38
I was gonna ask you where are they? How are they driving this around? Did they rent a hearse?

Chris Holland 24:42
They just had a station wagon Okay, or a hatchback or something it was you know, full size coffin to I'm sure. I've been thinking they might have bought out like a child size but

Alex Ferrari 24:51
Okay, that's just Yeah, I was about to say that's just, that's just wrong. And it

Chris Holland 24:58
didn't work. Yeah. I mean that definitely got attention I still have photos of you know that that surface every once in a while these guys with their stinking coffin and I wanted to go back to the title because titling of a film is something that I think filmmakers overlook as an opportunity to stand out yep it's so many people will name their film you know very generic phrases that sort of seem profound in the moment but actually make your film very difficult to remember much less find on the internet

Alex Ferrari 25:33
like like the tree right? I don't even know if that's a movie or not but the the chair worked and No, that wasn't even the chair what was that movie the fuzzy chair the

Chris Holland 25:43
Oh the Oh yeah, the comfy chair comfy chair. But that was your your puffy

Alex Ferrari 25:48
puffy chairs a better title than just the chair.

Chris Holland 25:50
Right? But yet, these very generic phrases that that's something that Hollywood does, because they are going to carpet bomb the world with advertising and you know the shorter something is the better in that scenario. But in this scenario where you have to be different because you don't have the ability to carpet bomb, whatever it is, then you really want to go with something memorable and I suggest stringing together two or three words that aren't ordinarily paired with one another so you know coffee with milk is not a good example because everybody uses that phrase right?

Alex Ferrari 26:34
Unless Brad Pitt's the star and then you okay,

Chris Holland 26:37
but the Stanton family grave robbery which has you know, a proper name a proper noun right and yeah, what the heck is a family grave robbery I gotta see that or that is attention. Nobody else is using that phrase anywhere on the internet. So yeah, exactly. instantly be able to find that on the internet once once you've got the night yeah, I'm

Alex Ferrari 27:02
actually consulting on a feature film right now. And they came to me they're like, you know, we can't get into festivals and you know what's going on? What can you help us with? And I looked at the movie I was like, well first thing you got to change that title. It was just such a generic title that created no excitement whatsoever. And I'm like, you've got to change that title. And they're like, Oh, well we've done this this this on it already. I'm like, Well, if you want to sell it, you got to change the title. If not, you'll never sell it. So we're working on new titles for it as well. And I worked on a film A Sundance winner called up solidia which was a great title because it's like what is up solidia and the second anyone type that word in there the number one ranking and they actually said that like it was a greatest move we ever did because we control Google for that title. So Exactly. titles are very very very important. Any any crazy like after our stores because I have a few of those after hours on a film festival

Chris Holland 27:59
after it Well, I mean, you want to go to a festival that's got crazy after our stuff going on. Go to some festivals in Texas but like small town, Texas, the Marfa Film Festival was a few years back but Martha's in a town or Marfa is a town in Far West Texas to get there you basically have to fly into Austin and then drive six hours. Do West

Alex Ferrari 28:28
Yeah, Texas is big man.

Chris Holland 28:29
It's really it's a big place. But once you get there the first thing you notice is that there's no traffic noise there's just no city noise of any kind so it's eerily silent. Which of course when you're out in the middle of nowhere with nobody to tell you not to do crazy shit that's you know exactly when crazy, crazy stuff goes on. Right? Right. Especially when you have a bunch of filmmakers and you know festival people from other festivals in Texas who you know have done their events for the year and just kind of want to let go a little bit. You know, that it provides a lot of opportunity for letting your hair down, shall we say and Marfa is a you know, an artist commune. There's a lot of people who have been there for many, many years who have been smoking many, many joints. There's a lot of there's more opportunity when you would think to get into trouble and a town like that. I just love Marfa. Anyway, like their theater is this wonderful little sort of converted, it's a converted bead store. You can't write this stuff. And I have a have a picture maybe I'll send it to you so you can include it in the show notes but it's just this beautiful little wooden see converted feed store but the edge of the feed store is literally 20 feet from the train tracks.

Alex Ferrari 29:57
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Chris Holland 30:08
So you'll be sitting there watching a movie. And then for about five minutes every hour or so you'll hear the train just whizzed by. It's like, not the greatest environment for like, not a, you know, controlled theater environment. But it sort of gives it that character, that bit of authenticity that makes it a very memorable festival to visit.

Alex Ferrari 30:32
So can I tell you can I tell you one of my crazy Sundance stories you obviously want to I have, I have to I am the host of the show, I have to tell you, no, I think you'll get a kick out of it. So back in the back in the day, I don't know if you remember, I'm sure you've been to Sundance a bunch of times, they used to have a lot of big, big house parties up in the hills, like, these big they rent out the mansions and they would just have these crazy house parties. And I don't know if they do it as much now because I think the resident started complaining so I'm not sure if they do as much anymore. But when I was there, me and my buddy, were just like, okay, let's, let's see if we can crash this party, all we would do is crash parties left and right at Sundance, and this one party was up in the middle of the hill, just a monstrous I mean, ridiculous mansion, wooden mansion. You know, like a log cabin there. And you know, there's there's security, there's, you know, there's a line to get into the list to see if you can get in. And I earlier that day had spoken to an agent from CIA. And when I got up to the front, like, Who are you? I'm like, Oh, I'm so and so from CIA. And they're like, we'll go right on insert. right in and all of us and then my buddy who's like, I'm just gonna try to sneak around the back. But I was smart enough to go Wait, let me let me just do this. So he jumped like five fences, broke through a window all the way in to get in and fight and like someone was smoking a joint in the back, or having sex in the back or something. He's like, excuse me, just walked right by. And then we're inside. And there's celebrities everywhere. I mean, all the movie stars of the day where they're and where I'm from. I was in from Florida. It was like my first Sundance, I was so excited. And then five minutes later the cops came because someone pulled the fire alarm. Oh, that's like son of but that was a and then we couldn't and then we couldn't and then we couldn't get a ride back. So we actually jumped into a limo with some celebrities and he was back it's it's a fun festival.

Chris Holland 32:35
That's a rough life you lead there, sir. Well,

Alex Ferrari 32:37
I wish it was like that every day sir. But it's not it's not it's not sir no at the at the indie film, hustle. There's a term we call hustling and we hustled to get into the party and hustled to get down to this town. But that doesn't happen every day. Not every day. Alright, so back to back to back to back to business. What are some of the reasons why films get rejected from film festivals? Because I know a lot of filmmakers are so pained when they're rejected, myself included. So what are some of the main reasons that they reject them?

Chris Holland 33:07
Well, I mean, there's the one reason that nobody wants to hear. And that that is your film just doesn't stack up against other films. There are lots and lots of really good films that don't get into festivals, because it's not enough to be really good anymore. You have to be great. And that's not to say that if you have a really good film, it won't go anywhere. But you definitely need to pick your phone up, pick your battles, you're not going to get into Tribeca, or Sundance or whatever with a really good film. Some really good films do but the numbers are just stacked against you so incredibly. Other reasons I mean, there are more reasons not to get selected that have nothing to do with the quality of your film. Then Then simply the quality of your film, like I put in mind of something that Dan Brawley from the cucalorus Film Festival said, at South by Southwest during a meeting of festival programmers are a couple of filmmakers in the room and they're like, you know, I'm just confused as to why my film didn't get into festivals. And Dan said, you know, for you to get offended that you didn't get into my film festival would be akin to you walking into the grocery store, buying things you need walking out and and saying everything that I didn't buy in the grocery store is garbage. Right? Because that wasn't stuff I selected. It's all garbage. They you know, you just you can't buy everything. You can't eat everything. That's a great analogy, right? So you just have to leave some things behind because there's only so much room in your shopping cart, I guess is the and what that shopping cart looks like is different for every festival. Every festival has an audience to satisfy. And you know, I think this goes back to sort of standard Film Festival economics, film festivals, serve an audience, that audience is not filmmakers, that audience is the people who live in their town or who come to their town to see the movies. Those people, although they buy tickets, or passes or whatever, those people are not really the customer, either. They're the audience, but they're not the customer. The customer is the sponsors, the sponsors, and the people who pay grants. Those are the actual customers because the bulk of the money comes from them. And what do they want, they want a full house, they want to see an event that has, you know, every single seat filled for every single thing. And the better you can do that better you can serve that audience, the more likely you are to get more money from the sponsors. Okay? So knowing this, you have to pick your films. With that in mind, you have to know what the festival reacted well to in the previous years, and what they didn't, so that you don't make the same mistakes over and over again, you can have the best film about, you know, gay cowboys in love. But if your audience hates gay cowboys in love, you are not going to get into that film. You know, sometimes I struggle to come up with examples about

Alex Ferrari 36:17
well, that movie that that movie, that movie won the Oscar. So did

Chris Holland 36:22
I know I'm sure there were film festivals that that film did not get into. So yeah, you know, don't take offense at your film, not getting in a foul festivals don't think it means that you suck. That is sort of the number one trap that filmmakers fall into, is either they get angry and offended. Because you know, and assume the film festivals just don't know what they're doing. Or they didn't watch the film. Right, which is that's utter garbage. Or they think that they're doing something wrong. They might be, but it's not automatically that. Okay, so reasons to get rejected from film festivals. No, to long, bad subjects. I think audio issues are always the big one, right? A lot of people get will sense that something is wrong with a film without knowing what's wrong with it. They don't know why the film's annoying them. And that's very often because the audio is bad, right? It doesn't call itself out. But it's really easy to see with your eyes, oh, this is out of focus, or it's just bad quality or shot poorly. But when audio is bad, you don't necessarily recognize it. And yeah, everything else is politics. Everything else is how does it serve our

Alex Ferrari 37:41
audience? Or our or our sponsors? Well,

Chris Holland 37:45
that those things are connected directly. The sponsors, you know, sometimes want artistic control, but not that often.

Alex Ferrari 37:52
Gotcha. Yeah. Now what would would you submit a work in progress, talking about quality, I know a lot of filmmakers, I deal with a lot of filmmakers that want to like, Oh, I want to submit them like work in progress or without color or with temp sound, or should you just wait?

Chris Holland 38:07
submitting a work in progress is almost always an emotional decision. It is the little voice in the back of your head that says, If I don't hit this deadline, I'm missing out on something. The truth is nine times out of 10, you're not missing out on anything. If you don't make this deadline, there's another deadline coming up or there's another festival coming up or the same festival coming up next year. You know, there's only a period of you know, six to seven months between when you know, a late deadline for a festival closes, and the early deadline for the next one opens up. That's not a lot of time. So you really don't let that little voice in the back of your head control what you do, because it's going to cost you money. And it's going to put you in competition with a lot of other films at a time when decisions have already been made. Right? Like the number of slots in the grocery cart that are available is less because you're coming into the process later, you know later on. So works in progress, you know, that are usually submitted to meet a deadline. And it's kind of a pro move right? festival programmers can see beyond your, you know, your imperfect color or sound and then see the story. They're like they've seen enough works in progress, they know can sort of tell what a film's going to look like. But if you are an unknown quantity, it's your first or second time doing the film festival thing. And you don't really know what you're doing, you know, it puts your film at a disadvantage. Why take that chance, right?

Alex Ferrari 39:49
No. And can we talk a little bit about Sundance because that is the mecca of all film festivals for a lot of independent filmmakers and everyone kills themselves. I mean every year when the deadlines coming I get slammed with we got to make the Sundance, I need to make blu rays. I need to make this I need to get this and it's like everyone kills themselves to try to get that that deadline. Can you talk a little bit about the mystique? The the mythos that is Sundance and how what the realities are of submitting to Sundance. And should they should everyone submit the Sundance is like that lottery ticket, maybe we'll get in? Or should they be more strategic on what works best for their film.

Chris Holland 40:31
I never discourage someone from submitting to Sundance. Because if you don't submit to Sundance, you have that little thing in the back of your head that says, oh, but what if, you know, some people can ignore that some people just go, you know what I know, I don't have a shot at Sundance, and that's okay. If you have that kind of confidence, then God bless, save yourself, the 50 bucks and or $90, or whatever it is the late deadline and move on with your life. But if you know yourself well enough to know, Oh, God, I will just always think, you know, what is? What would have happened if I had submitted to that festival, then by all means, submit? What are your chances realistically of actually getting into the Sundance Film Festival? Every year I used to, and I haven't done this in a few years. But I used to calculate out, you know, given the number of screening slots, and given the number of films that got submitted that year, what roughly was your chance of getting into the film festival? And it was always like, point oh, 3% or something. It was some ridiculous,

Alex Ferrari 41:35
there's 13 there's like was a 13 competition films or something like that? And Sundance?

Chris Holland 41:40
Well, that that matters less than that, you know, because you can't break it down like that. The numbers you'd have to have access to would be crazy. And oh, we could do that. Got it. Yeah. But if you break it down roughly to number of films, or even number of shorts versus number of features, you know, it doesn't take you very long before you get down to less than 1% chance of getting into that festival. Right? Compare that to other festivals where there are 200 slots and 5000 films are being submitted or even like 200 slots and 1000 Films 1000 films, right, your chances get a lot better. So you know, that's one of the reasons that I say avoid those Oscar qualifying festivals because just the sheer math improves, right and I am 10 times more likely to get into festival a than festival B, simply because I know this one fact about how many submissions they get. That's crazy talk, you know, you should absolutely be thinking in those terms. like crazy good talk rather. So yeah. submit this way thinks Sundance is worth it. Yes, please do submit, submit the best copy version, whatever of your film that you possibly can send it into the ether and you know, give it a kiss goodbye, and then move on with your life. Maybe you'll hit the lottery, maybe you won't. There are plenty of deserving and undeserving films that got into Sundance and had their lives changed. Don't Rob yourself of that possibility. If you think there's even a chance you've got no, got that chance. But don't be surprised when you get the dear john letter.

Alex Ferrari 43:15
Well, I mean, a perfect example is that film I was telling you about opsin Lydia, that was a late entry, no star no connection submission with which was color graded. But I think the sound was not done. So it was a work in progress. And they literally dropped it off the last day physically dropped it off in the Sundance office here in LA. And they were one of the 13 competition and won two awards. So it happens but it was but that movie fit of very specific hole in that shopping cart. That was perfect for it was just like that. a year earlier. That movie doesn't get in a year later that movie doesn't get in. But that year, it just happened to make it in. So yeah,

Chris Holland 43:54
that's the kind of lightning in a bottle thing. Yeah, that that does happen and what what makes Sundance so awesome. That speaks to the quality of their programming that they you know, a lot of festivals wouldn't given those kinds of numbers wouldn't have been able to catch that film that late in the year in the submissions process. A couple of screeners would have watched it, they would have given it high marks and you know, somewhere in between the that rush of whatever, you know, the programming team might or might not have been able to look at those scores and give it that chance. Some of the things that you mentioned in that story, though, you know, the fact that there were no stars, the fact that there were no connections, you know, that calls to, you know, to, to the to the attention, the idea that you have to have name actors in your film to get into Sundance or that you have to know someone on the inside. You don't. Sundance has a very vested interest in discovering new talent. They need to be seen as the ones who plucked that filmmaker from obscurity because they made great art. And you know, made something out of them by the very power of the prestige, that is Sundance, they have that reputation to maintain. So they are on the lookout for you, I promise. You know, if you've got what it takes, they will find you.

Alex Ferrari 45:16
I mean, how many how many careers have they launched? I mean, precise. I mean, just it just ever. I mean, the list is insane. Now can

Chris Holland 45:24
you write when I hear filmmakers say, Oh, they didn't even watch my film. And you know, and I realize this makes me seem like an incredible snob and very derisive. But I hear this a lot. And it does, you know, credit to say, I can't get into Sundance, because I don't know anyone there. And I don't have any name actors in my film. That that is that's, you know, selling yourself short, and selling them short. End of rant.

Alex Ferrari 45:50
But with that said, though, having star power, maybe not for Sundance, but for a lot of other festivals does help in the submission process, because at the end of the day, they want acids and seeds. And can you talk a little bit about that? Do you agree with that statement?

Chris Holland 46:04
Of course, I agree with that statement. You know, I mean, if you could have Brad Pitt on your course. Would right?

Alex Ferrari 46:11
Absolutely not Chris, I am loyal to the bone, sir.

Chris Holland 46:17
The simple fact is

Alex Ferrari 46:18
so I mean to cut you off Mr. Pitts, calling me now I gotta go.

Chris Holland 46:22
And the horse you rode in on? Yes, stars, put butts in seats, but they're, you know, some percentage of slots at any given festival that are dedicated to those things. Those are the opening night and closing night and centerpiece films. And they serve a very specific purpose. But you're not competing with those films. Those films generally don't get submitted to festivals, those films, particularly the ones with a list actors, I mean, if you've got like a brsc named celebrities, he's been on TV a few times. Okay, yeah, some of those. But those aren't what I would call serious competition for for your your film if your film has a better story. But yeah, those films are curated from either other festivals or from the distributors who on their rights, they come through a completely different channel than the open calls for entry. And so don't resent those films, Be glad those films are there, because they're paying for you the slot that you're occupying. Because, you know, depending on how things go, a lot of the smaller indie films don't draw as big of an audience and you've got a half empty theater. And you know, that screening cost just as much to put on as the the one that was 100% fall. So in a lot of ways they're paying the rent, for you know, your opportunity.

Alex Ferrari 47:49
That's a great way of looking at it. And can you talk a little bit about first tier and second tier film festivals, and a lot of people have heard those terms? What it Can you explain it a little bit.

Chris Holland 47:58
So you can look at tears one of two ways. Either you can look at tears objectively, like Sundance is a first tier Film Festival, no, no bones about it, right? Or you can look at them from a perspective of at what tier is this festival relative to my film, if you have a science fiction film, right, then a festival like fantastic fast or Fantasia or something like that, that's going to be a first tier fest for you, right? That's going to bring you the audience and the prestige and you know, everything that you want from a festival. So that's like your first tier targets. Those might not be first tier festivals on the objective scale. Nobody's gonna say that fantastic. Fast is as prestigious as Sundance in any other context. But you know, so those are the, when I talk about tiers, that's sort of what I what I mean by those two things. What makes a tier one fast versus a tier two fast? It's a combination of factors from audience size, number of films, they're able to program number, you know how much money they have, whether they're Oscar accredited or not. Who their backers are, right, Robert Redford and Robert De Niro bring a lot of cachet to the festivals that they underwrite. So there's a lot of different factors there. It's it's not like there's any industry standard. There's nobody setting down the canonical. These festivals are tier one or tier two. And this is you know, how she'll be forevermore. But those distinctions do exist.

Alex Ferrari 49:39
Yeah, exactly. Like if you have a horror movie in screamfest is going to be on the top of that list or a horror or you know, one of the top horror film festivals are going to be much higher than let's say Sundance.

Chris Holland 49:50
Yeah, possibly. I mean, so Sundance has its own Midnight's thing. Yeah, yeah, they're they're gonna absorb as many genres as they can, because they they want you know, the Stage of having found those things to again, go ahead and submit your film to Sundance, it's okay, but know that that scream fest or Shrek fest or whoever it is what will also be there for you.

Alex Ferrari 50:10
So these, these last few questions are the ones I ask of all of my all of my guests are so prepare yourself these are the toughest of all the questions.

Chris Holland 50:18
Well, having never listened to your podcast before I am taken totally unaware.

Alex Ferrari 50:23
To say, sir, to say, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life.

Chris Holland 50:31
So the lesson that I keep learning every day, and sort of took the longest to crystallize in my mind was that, you know, while I would not call them festivals in industry, it is a business and there's an economy to everything. What you are doing when you put your film into the into the world into the film festival world is you are hoping to attract a customer you're hoping to make a sale, there's a transaction happening, and you have something of value to offer in that transaction. And that thing is your film, right you by way of your film are delivering, hoping to help the festival attract an audience. And that's what the festival wants from you. The festival has an array of things that are of value to you, primarily a slot in the festival itself. But lots of other stuff that goes along with that. So depending on how high the value of your film is, you can use that leverage to, you know, barter or bargain for other things that the festival has a value that to give you such as a better time slot, or help with your travel or in some extreme cases, even a screening fee. And again, that all depends on how high the value of your film is to what you can negotiate for but never forget that it is an economy and you have the power to negotiate. If you are aware that negotiating is an option.

Alex Ferrari 52:09
Good to know very good to know now what are your top three favorite films of all time?

Chris Holland 52:14
Let's see. In no particular order, because they all hold the same place in my heart. The apartments with jack Lemmon Shirley MacLaine singing in the rain, okay, and Joe versus the volcano

Alex Ferrari 52:30
Oh, I freakin love Joe versus the volcano and that was such an underrated and I was my next question is wasn't one of the most underrated films of all that you've ever seen. I think

Chris Holland 52:38
Joe versus the volcano

Alex Ferrari 52:40
Yeah, no question about it. If everybody out there listening go find Joe versus the volcano starts Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. And it was a brilliant, misunderstood movie when it was released. I remember seeing it in the theater. Nobody got it. Only years later that it start becoming a cult, a cult movie that people just love.

Chris Holland 53:01
Just hit iTunes like a year or two ago. It was not on iTunes for the longest time. So is now part of my iTunes library. If I were going to answer that question with the film, it's not my top three I would say Steve Martin's la story.

Alex Ferrari 53:15
Oh, I love this story. I remember that's another one. That was another one that people just did not get only people in LA got that move.

Chris Holland 53:22
Yeah, I mean, it's brilliant and has a lot of people in it. Who were not much of it like so many emerging stars.

Alex Ferrari 53:29
So Michelle, Sarah Michelle. navasana. Michelle, Sarah Jessica Parker. Yep, it was one of them. I remember off the top of my head. I haven't seen

Chris Holland 53:36
A lot of a lot of character actors. Yeah, definitely worth a look.

Alex Ferrari 53:39
So where can people find you and I heard you had a little something special for the the indie film hustle tribe.

Chris Holland 53:45
I do. If the tribe will direct their web browsers to film festival secrets.com slash hustle. And hopefully everybody who's listening to this knows how to spell hustle. You will find a downloadable list of my top festivals for hustlers you heard me say earlier that you know the Oscar accredited festivals are maybe not your best targets. This is a list of festivals that maybe lesser known but still incredibly excellent. And I've got some shorts. I've got some features and I even have some for some of the genres out there like LGBTQ and sci fi and stuff like that.

Alex Ferrari 54:30
Awesome. Awesome. And so and then where can people find you other than that? Well, there's

Chris Holland 54:35
Film Festival secrets calm obviously. There is a podcast on which a certain Mr. Ferrari might have been a guest recently. So if you search for the film festival secrets podcast on iTunes or your favorite pod catcher, you can find me there. I'm on Twitter at Film Fest secrets. And you can find me at film festivals. You know sometimes I speak In in person live at film festivals you can find me there.

Alex Ferrari 55:05
And if I'm not mistaken you were just named one of the top five filmmaking podcasts by Movie Maker magazine. Am I correct?

Chris Holland 55:12
Yep, I am an essential podcasts as Movie Maker.

Alex Ferrari 55:16
And I'm not I'm not bitter. I'm not bitter for not making the list. I'm just saying I'm not bitter at all.

Chris Holland 55:20
That's okay. I wouldn't be bitter if I were you.

Alex Ferrari 55:24
And you also wrote a book.

Chris Holland 55:27
I did write a book, Second Edition of Film Festival secrets you'll see a theme emerging here as I say Film Festival secrets a handbook for independent filmmakers. If you go to film festival secrets calm slash resources, you can order these preorder the second edition which will be out in mid April, I believe. And you can get the first edition for free when you do the pre order.

Alex Ferrari 55:53
Chris, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to the tribe. I really appreciate all the the knowledge bombs you dropped on us today for Film Festival. So thanks again for taking the time man.

Chris Holland 56:04
My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Alex Ferrari 56:07
And film festivals can be a field of landmines. If you're not careful, there's a lot of things that you need to kind of know before you go into it. And a lot of times you just have to learn that the hard way but by using by going visiting Chris at his website at Film Festival secrets calm or getting our course Film Festival hacks that really helps you out a lot and kind of I mean, a little bit of investment right up front will save you 1000s of dollars later I wish I would have had that course before I started my my film festival runs with all my my projects and believe it like I said before, I lost a ton of cash doing that so and also what me and Chris kind of put together is we've put together a free podcast series, all about film festivals, we're gonna do an eight episode run. And if it really does, well, we might do another another season but for the first season, we're gonna do eight episodes, and it will be called the film festival hacks podcast. And we will put a link in the show notes when it launches, they won't launch probably for about at least another week or two. But when it launches, you can come back here and check it out at indiefilmhustle.com/067 is the show notes and you can find the link there. Now as promised, I am going to be giving you guys a link for 50% off our course the film festival hacks. It's an online course you can take on line you can put it on your iPhone, watch it anytime you like. The link is indie film, hustle comm forward slash festival hacks 50 that's indiefilmhustle.com/festivalhacks50. Now this will be for a limited time only, we may only have it up for a couple of weeks. So I would jump on it as fast as possible because after that, it goes back up to the normal price of 50 bucks. But it will be 25 bucks, which is an insane deal for this kind of course. So check it out. I wanted to let you guys know that we have a indie film hustle community on Facebook. It's a private, private group that I've put together and we have over 4200 now members in it and you can head over to indiefilmhustle.com/Facebook and sign up. We do a lot of talking there. We help each other out. We show each other's work. And we just kind of start you know, communicating and helping each other out there. So that's what the community in the group is all about. So it's at indiefilmhustle.com/Facebook. Thanks again for listening guys. I hope you got a lot out of this episode. And keep the hustle going. Keep that dream alive. And I will talk to you soon.

YOUTUBE VIDEO

IFH 035: What Happens After You Win the SXSW Film Festival with Brant Sersen

Right-click here to download the MP3

Have you always wonder what happens to indie filmmakers who win HUGE film festivals like the SXSW Film Festival? Well, wonder no more.

I’ve invited one of my oldest friends onto the show, Brant Sersen, the writer, and director of the SXSW Audience Award-winning film “Blackballed: The Bobby Dukes Story” starring Rob Corddry.

Some other films he’s directed are ReleaseSplinterheadsand Sanatorium.

Over the years I’ve heard Brant tell me all sorts of stories about his misadventures in Hollywood. So if you are expecting a “Entourage” style story you’re on the wrong website.

What I try to do with Indie Film Hustle is to give you the no-BS info, stories, and experiences you can only get by being in the heat of battle. Brant Sersen’s story is no different.

Brant shares his ups and downs on the Hollywood roller coaster, what it takes to make it as a working filmmaker and shares behind the scenes stories of working with big-name talent. Enjoy the podcast!

Here’s the trailer to Blackballed: The Bobby Dukes Story:

Alex Ferrari 0:04
Now today, guys, we have an old friend of mine, he's probably one of my oldest friends, his name is Brant Sersen and Brant a director he's been he's he's one South by Southwest, the Audience Award for his movie blackballed and has one ton of other festivals, as well as directing other feature films at different budget ranges. And he's told me stories over the years about his adventures in the film business, so I thought it would be a wonderful idea to bring them onto the show, and have him tell you his stories of what it's really like to win a huge festival like South by Southwest when the Audience Award which is a huge honor. And what really happens to someone after that, what the realities are, you know, it's not like he all of a sudden just got tons of money thrown at him. He went off made $100 million movie and the rest is history, which is where a lot of people think happens when you went big festivals. But what he tells you the truth of what really happened to him is different adventures, and so on. So get ready for a very entertaining conversation with Director Brant Sersen. And, Brat, thank you so much for being on the show. Man. We really appreciate you taking the time out. I know you're you know, very busy, busy. big Hollywood. mover and shaker.

Brant Sersen 1:24
Yeah, big, big time East Coast guy.

Alex Ferrari 1:27
So Brant, I wanted to have

Brant Sersen 1:29
Bigtime New York indie film scene guy.

Alex Ferrari 1:30
Yeah, exactly, exactly.So Brian, I wanted to have you on the show. Because we've been we've been friends for I just did the math, getting close to 20 years. Jesus

Brant Sersen 1:37
It's insane

Alex Ferrari 1:37
It's insanity.

Brant Sersen 1:38
So you're so old Alex.

Alex Ferrari 1:39
I know, I'm so old, even though you're three months older than me, anyway. And I will never let you that I'll never let that go. So I wanted to get you on the show. Because you've lived a very, your experience through the Hollywood system, or the filmmaking experience is very unique. And I've been front row center for most of it, if not all of it, actually, because you kept, we kept talking back and forth over the years about what you're doing. And we've had our long sessions of phone calls that we had while you were going through some of these experiences. So I thought it would be really educational, to kind of break down a lot of myths and also just explain how you got started because it's a fascinating story. So I want to start by asking you, how did we meet? And how did that whole? You know, unfortunately, how did we meet?

Brant Sersen 2:11
Unfortunately, I went to the University of Miami. Now I was at the University of Miami for their film school, which was pretty decent film school back in the mid 90s, I guess. And you know, one of the requirements of the film track that I was in that I had to intern somewhere so there was a list of places that all the students were given and I guess it was called asi Yeah, right. If I film works Yeah, if I film works was one of the places on the list I I was working with someone else. Through asi being a gopher, I don't I forget the guy's name. But he had me driving all around Miami doing the war stuff. But I got to see Miami a little bit by doing that. And I basically after like a couple of weeks of being Terra gopher for this guy, and not really learning anything. I said, I'm out of here. He said, well wait a second. And he introduced me to you. And you were sort of like, I guess that you were like the vault guy. Maybe I was

Alex Ferrari 2:59
I was the dubber slash vault guys slash Mac technician for the entire company. Back in the days when Mac's you know working network together with Apple POC cables. Right so and you came in I remember you came in and you're like, Can I intern for you, man, because like, it seems like you could teach me something. I'm like, Yeah, sure. And we hit it off from that point on and I don't even remember it.

Brant Sersen 3:12
I remember he came in just to introduce me to you and I sat with you for a little bit and I saw what was going on.

Alex Ferrari 3:15
I was editing reels. Yeah, I was editing

Brant Sersen 3:16
Yes, I was like, this is where I need to be not like, you know, picking up detergent and weird stuff. Yes. supermarket. Yeah, it was crazy. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 3:22
Which is which which, by the way if you're getting into the film business that you're going to be doing that a lot of times when you first start out is gonna

Brant Sersen 3:27
But you dont have to.

Alex Ferrari 3:28
Exactly. So yeah, I was editing on a three quarter inch tape on a Sony three quarter inch from deck to deck to editing demo reel for the commercial direct. It was a commercial so we're doing commercial real estate. Which, and then yeah, I didn't I don't even remember what I taught you did? What did you learn?

Brant Sersen 3:42
You taught me how to use a three quarter deck. Alright, cuz I didn't you know, they weren't teaching that in school, you know, and betas and stuff like that. I think that we got betas like, you know, everything was you know, we were doing everything on 16. So, you know, we were in that analog world. So we, you know, it was, you know, I was learning betas and three quarters and like, just it was like, Well, what are these giant tapes? Like, what you know, what is this

Alex Ferrari 5:31
Which is like stuff that you needed to learn for, like, at the time, that was the norm that was like job skills

Brant Sersen 6:06
That was like the Yeah, the three quarter tape was like v tape to pass around your reel on, right. So yeah, so and then it was just, you know, all the dubbing machines and all that stuff. It was, you know, I was not super techie. But like, that was I felt I was sitting in like, you know, the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. It was like, it was pretty awesome. You know, like, just all the machines and stuff. And I was like, Yeah, I want to learn all this stuff.

Alex Ferrari 6:27
And I think and I think you came in, like, after maybe like, for like, three months or two months that I've had the job there. So it was like, yeah, cuz I interned I interned for the guy who had the job before for over three months, working for free every day, and just kind of like busting my butt until finally he left in the like, well, who's going to take the job. I'm like, I'll give it to Alex. He's been here for the last three months. And that's how I got the job. So enough about our dubbing times, let's get to some serious stuff. So after you left with me, you got you got a job offer, I guess, at the legendary propaganda films.

Brant Sersen 7:06
Yes. So I was living. I'm from New York, I grew up in a suburb just 30 minutes north of New York City. And when I went home, I ended up getting an internship at propaganda films, not knowing, you know, I was, I was going to film schools, I want to make movies, you know, I think I was still figuring out like, who I am and what I want to do, I, you know, my, I have to say, my mom was sort of, like, instrumental and pushing me down this road, because she saw early on that, like, you know, I was a big film, like love Star Wars and all those kinds of movies, and I was into, like, special effects. And she's like, you know, you're going to go to Hollywood and be a special effects guy, you know, so that was like, my first You know, that's why I thought I wanted to do and then you know, as you get in film school, you learn like, I'm gonna be a director, I'm gonna be running this stuff. So. So you know, I was a film guy, and I kind of knew someone that was over a propaganda through someone else. And I went there, and I interned for a week during my like Christmas vacation, just for a week. And I think that first day, I was there, interning the guy that I was, so I got an internship for propagandas in their vault. And so I was doing everything that you taught me, I used those those skills, and I brought them to New York where I excelled. I was editing on three quarter decks, you know, back to back betas. And you know, but it was for directors like Michael Bay and David Fincher and Tom Fuqua and then spec journalists and those guys yeah, little did I know that they had, you know, a little smaller company satellite films, which had spike Jones and then they had partisan that had Michel Gondry, and all of a sudden I am sitting in this place where it's like, the biggest directors,

the biggest commercial and the commercial at the time now there Yeah, biggest in the film that

Yeah, none of it made. I think David Fincher was, you know, I think he was just finishing up with Fight Club when I was there. Right. And, and he broke it. Yeah, so it was, you know, but anyway, yeah, so that I have some my first day. They were like, my boss was like, Hey, we're gonna go to this shoot. One of our directors is shooting a music video for Daft Punk. Like, who's Daft Punk, but I'll go, you know, and they're like, Oh, it's spike Jones. I'm like, Ah, what? So? Yeah, it was like, a few blocks away. We walked over and we watched spike Jones shoot a Daft Punk video and

then it's that it's the it's the one we all remember right? It's like that the dog

the dog walking around the East Village. Yeah. So if you look really closely, there's like a couple scenes where you see me like shopping for fruit in the background or like walking by with a backpack. But I was super excited because spike Jones was sort of, you know, when I really knew what I wanted to do, you know, I grew up skateboarding and unknowingly I've been you know, I was watching skate videos and there was one called mouse and one called goldfish and Who knew that spike Jones made those and it made sense because these were like the coolest, like skate videos. And then, you know, he was, you know, pretty instrumental. And you know, where I am now as far as like getting into this business because, you know, I was just sort of like a skate punk still trying to figure stuff out. And then you know, watching those videos was like, Oh, this is what I want to be doing. And then yeah, so then finding out that spike Jones was that propaganda was just like I won the lottery. So you know, now graduates, Yeah, go ahead.

Alex Ferrari 10:29
No, so so and I remember because when you got into propaganda, I was like, super excited. And I was like, Oh, and I think I visited propaganda. Yeah, I was in New York, doing some work and I got to take the tour of propaganda which was so much fun, like walking around that kind of environment. I'm like, Man, you get to work your every day. Yeah, it was super fun. And then I remember you, you were always so kind. And you would edit demo reels of David Fincher Michael Bay, Spike Jones Fuqua all the big direct and you would mail them to me on spin owns on the propaganda dime, which I appreciate and and I would get these like I still have those By the way, I still have them in in my archive somewhere relics, their relics and some of the stuff was like, you know, Michael Bay's commercials that no one's ever seen or David Fincher his early work or spike Jones like you know, I think was is a spanking

Brant Sersen 11:27
Dinosaur Jr. stuff

Alex Ferrari 11:28
Yeah, like this crazy stuff that no one will ever see. But I haven't I have it I have it on VHS so it was so cool. And I was learning a lot while you were sending me though so it was like it was it was like having a connect a pipeline into propaganda which, if you guys don't understand propaganda film was was the largest commercial music video house in the world. For a long time before they they finally there was nobody else like there was no one even close because of the staff of people. I mean, Michael Bay, David Fincher, Spike Jonze, Fuqua, Michel Gondry, and the list goes on and on with these amazing directors. So, it was, it was a ton of fun. So after that, you Yeah, after that, you did that for a little while, and then you jumped over to Comedy Central,right?

Brant Sersen 12:14
Yes, sort of so like, you know, when I was at propaganda, you know, what I started doing actually, while I was in college, so I started doing a documentary. And, you know, I was I sort of discovered music for the first time down there, you know, punk rock, and I started just sort of documenting like the scene that was like around me down there because I was so enamored by it, and I loved the music and I love the people and that documentary, I worked on it for a few years while I was at propaganda and was interviewing bands and people up and down the East Coast for a couple years. Until we finished it. And you know, that was that was my first film you know, I think I did a music video for that.

Alex Ferrari 12:58
Yes, I edit it. Oh, God,

Brant Sersen 13:04
we were just talking about getting over that fun stuff. Right? I forgot about

Alex Ferrari 13:07
it was like a really like was thrash band.

Brant Sersen 13:09
It was a Miami hardcore band called brethren Bradbury. Yeah, we took over a club. I had no idea what I was doing. But I shout out 16 Yeah, the cool thing was I in college, I was in the production track of film, I switched over into the business track because I felt like what I was learning in the classroom, like that would take me a semester to learn, I could learn on like, in one day on the set of one of my friends films, so I switched over into the business track just to like, you know, see what they're saying about producing and marketing and distribution because that stuff is so important, you know, in film, and I think it's like you know, people they don't they forget that or they don't realize at the time when they're making a movie how important that part is, and it was like in one of those classes where I forget the professor's name but he said something about finding your niche and I was sitting there in the seat and I'm like, Oh my god, I know my niche. It's like, I go to these shows every every weekend watch these bands play where like they're skinheads on one side. And then these like, Cuban hardcore guys on the other end surfers and like they're fighting outside, but they're like, total bros inside and it was just a really unique scene. So I started documenting that and interviewing the bands. And one of the first bands I interviewed was blink 182 before they were anybody, and and then from there, the list grew. And, you know, I worked on for a couple years. And then, you know, we played at a film festival, the New York underground Film Festival, which was started by Todd Phillips, and we had a great screening. It was my first taste of, you know, showing a film in a theater with an audience and having to do a q&a and, you know, getting razzed, like left and right, you know, it was great, but I was hooked after that, you know, so then, you know, after that film, which was called release, one of the bands was a New York hardcore band, they sort of hired me to do their rockumentary. And so I spent a year doing that. In between working at propaganda films and Comedy Central, so that was great because I interviewed like, rancid and the mighty mighty bosstones and all these big bands at the time. And you know, and that did great. And these were two, you know, videos that were distributed worldwide through you know, independent video labels like the record labels and they did great.

Alex Ferrari 15:18
And you actually made money with them.

Brant Sersen 15:20
I made I release I made money we the first one, for sure I made it, you know, you know, paid myself back and decent not a lot of money. But no, no, sir for like a 21 year old, I was happy. Right, and then I, and then sick of it all was the band, I, they paid me to do that film. So flat, right, I ended up probably spending money out of my own pocket because they ended up cutting the budget in half while we were midway through and I had like an editor and a visual effects guy I was working with and I don't want to leave them hanging in this film was actually important to me, I was like, really emotionally invested in it. And I wanted to see it done. So I think I just like I threw an extra couple 1000 in there just to like finish it, you know, pay my guys. And then so during that time, I wrote a I wrote this script that got a little traction. Somehow I was a producer in New York, who ended up getting ICM interested, and some another producer out in LA. And it was called Jimmy the dragon. And it was a comedy about these backyard wrestlers. And you know, I just came off of these two documentaries. And now I am like, in on the phone talking to like ICM, this packaging agent. And they're talking about, you know, these million dollar budgets. And it was like, Whoa, and they're like, yeah, and we're thinking about Jenny McCarthy. And we want Jenna Jamison for this part, because she was all big time at the time. And it was like, you know what's going on? You know, we started, we started casting in New York, and I couldn't believe what was happening. I'm like, 2223 years old, and this movie's coming together. And then 911 happened, and 911 happened, and everything fell apart after that, of course, and that's so yeah, so it was just like the brakes were put on the project died, you know, everyone sort of like retreated back to where they were for a little while. And you know, one of the things that I learned during this whole thing is, you know, I didn't have anything to fall back on, I put all my eggs in one basket with this one film. And when this project fell apart, I literally had nothing because I was, you know, generating my own ideas and shooting my own stuff. You know, I wasn't in a position where people were going to hire me to direct anything, because, you know, I did a couple documentaries on bands, but like, you know, I just wasn't at that place. So that is when I took this job at Comedy Central working in their vault, basically.

Alex Ferrari 17:48
I'm responsible for your careers while you're telling me.

Brant Sersen 17:51
I don't forget. Yes, yes. So yeah. You're under your tutelage I learned. Then I yeah. And it

snowballed from there. The Oscar. Did you beta? Of course.

Yeah. Yeah. So then I got this job at Comedy Central. And after I walked in, and I said, on day one, myself, I will be here for three months tops. I just need a little cushion health health benefits. Just to like, keep me you know, the float me for a little while, why I get this, because then I had this idea that came to me like a week before I got the job. And it was like, a little movie that I thought of that I was like, I'm going to shoot this movie. I'm going to do it for no money, because that's the only way I think I could do it. And you know, I'm gonna just beer, you know, for like, no time. Sure. And, you know, I think three months turned into like, three years. But regardless, that film was blackballed. The Bobby Duke story, and that's when I thought of this idea. I partnered up with a friend of mine, who just started to manage some people in New York. And we used to go to comedy shows all the time. And, you know, we spent a lot of time at the UCB theater back in the early early days. And, you know, I told him my idea, and he's like, yeah, let's make this. Like, let's put some of my guys that I'm going to represent in this thing. And you know, it's a win win for both of us. So, you know, I would go down to the theater with them UCB theater, and we'd watch and basically I just sat in the audience and was like, Oh, I like this guy, Rob kubal. For this part, and man, Rob Riggle would be great for this part and Paul Scheer for this and john Ross Bowery for here and john, you

Alex Ferrari 19:28
had like this insane cast

Brant Sersen 19:31
blackballed because my friend Brian Steinberg, you know, he introduced me to this, this comedy scene in New York that, you know, wasn't really big yet, you know, still very small. So yeah, I was up, you know, in the way beginnings when UCB started and saw all those the pillars of UCB like just getting started. And you know, I, I kind of put together this mockumentary paint ball story, you know, and I figured coming from documentary like a nice transition into like narrative filmmaking was like a mockumentary, you know, you know, it felt it felt natural. It felt, you know, comfortable for me to try that first. So, you know, we were we were lucky that, you know, Rob Corddry signed on to play the lead character, Bobby Dukes and, you know, we filled in the casts with, you know, I could go through the list and no all and yeah, and people. And you know, and so we spent one summer every weekend shooting that movie. And, you know, not knowing what we were going to get, you know, I wrote the story, it was like, on 20 pages, and the movie was improvised, you know, a dialogue. And we just went out every weekend based on Rob core juries, his daily show schedule at the time, because I think he just got the gig. So you know, he had to do put in his time and he wasn't messing around with it. So he's like, Bran, I'll give you a Saturday and Sunday here next week, I could do give you a Sunday, the following week, I'm gonna be in Minneapolis covering this. And that's, you know, so it took a while to get that movie done. But when it did, and when we started putting it together, you know, we had something special. And I got the producer who was who set up the Jimmy the dragon movie, to take a look at basically for our rough cut of this of this film. And he was like, okay, we're on board, like, we want it on this movie. And I said, I need you because I'm not a producer. I was able to pull this thing together. But I need you now. And together. You know, we, you know, we started talking about like, you know, what are we going to do when we're like, I guess film festivals, I didn't really know much about some festivals other than that New York underground, and that was sort of like a fluke. So you know, we, he they submitted and, you know, I heard of South by Southwest, you know, I didn't know much about it. And there were some other ones I can't ever remember. And I got a call and I was like, Brent, we we got a call from South by Southwest, they want the world premiere. And it's like, okay, and you're like, like, what? South by Southwest? Yeah. So So then, you know, then it's like, well, let me see what this is all about. And then it's like, oh, uncredible so we we so we saw blackballed premiered at South by Southwest, big audience reaction. And it was one of the best, best moments of huge audience we played in the convention center. It was sold out, it was, I was sitting with caudry and shear and Owen Burke, and a couple guys from the crew. And Brendan Burke was there. And, you know, we have this he-man opening sequence that's like, you know, two, three minutes long for the credits. And after the credits ended, there was basically a standing ovation. We were like, What is going on? It was the people were clapping, we'd have corgis looking at me, like what's going on? was the most incredible experience of my life. Like, I mean, the audience in tech in Austin was like incredible. They, like everyone laughed at the right places. Every single joke hit, like everything worked it. And then it was the biggest like applause at the end of the movie. You know, the movie ended. You know, we were like on another planet. caudry runs out of the theater. I always remember this. I'm like, Where are you going? We have to go do q&a. He's like, no, I got to go to the bathroom. So I'm down there in standing in front of like, 600 people with sheer and are my editor Chris LeClair who's doesn't talk much. And I gotta like this is the first is like the biggest group of people I've ever talked to in my life. And I'm like, Where's cordrea? Like, this is what he does, you know, right? And, you know, so they, the, they start asking questions that I'm like, you know, then Corddry comes running in, he gets a huge applause and we ended up having a great q&a, you know, then we had this after party, after the whole thing. And then, you know, you start getting business cards, Hey, man, I love your movie, you know, what are you doing next? Can I interview you, you know, I got this site, hey, you know, I want to talk to you about this project, you know, that we think you'd be right for and you start getting all these people, like, you know, just kind of telling you all this stuff. And then you know, the week goes by, you know, a couple days go by, and they have the award ceremony and we're like, Let's go, you know, see what happens. And we ended up winning the Audience Award. And that was pretty incredible. And then there was a big party after the festival for that. And then the same thing, get all these people, you know, here's my card. Here's my card. Here's my card.

Alex Ferrari 24:19
So, so so the after after you got your after you won the Audience Award, you're approached by studios, producers, agents, all that kind of stuff, right?

Brant Sersen 24:29
No studios, producers? I don't any agents that I don't know. No agents, not one. Oh, no, sorry. Yes. 181 agent acted me from what agency? He had his own agency, the same name. It was like

Alex Ferrari 24:49
so I guess so.

Brant Sersen 24:50
I think we had the same name because I have an unusual name, but I think his name is Brent. That's all I remember. Okay. And so, so yeah, I just want the audience toward you know South I guess it was getting big I don't know if studios were like you know looking at their shopping you know I don't know if it was maybe a little too early maybe like some of the bigger films now let me remind you sup my cast they were nobodies besides Rob Corddry right they were nobodies no one knew who they were and we shot the this film on the Panasonic I think was the dv x 100 when they first introduced 24 p

Alex Ferrari 25:28
with not even the 100 A the 100 100

Brant Sersen 25:31
yeah 100 100 so and and my my two camera operators they were just like one of them was like a guy I worked with at Comedy Central and then another guy was just like a friend of a friend. So it was like yeah, push this red button, you know, because it's a great

Alex Ferrari 25:49
you know, it's a mockumentary so you can get away with it yeah

Brant Sersen 25:51
you know and you can get away with it but like it It didn't look it looked like an indie you know I'm saying not so so so but to go back to your saying getting I was approached by a couple couple producers mostly like journalists But no, no way no, no like big agents or studios. So

Alex Ferrari 26:13
that was one of the things I wanted to talk about about you know, a lot of people think you went to a festival like South by Southwest or Sundance or Toronto or or any of these big festivals and all of a sudden you have a golden ticket. They write you a check and they go Come this way. Here's your next $20 million movie and so on. Which is the myth it's the Cinderella story that we've all been told. But the reality is that it's not true at this point you've gotten some traction you've gotten some attention and now the real work starts for you as you continue to try to build your career after this it didn't open any it did open some doors for you right

Brant Sersen 26:51
it kind of did you know but you went to a

lot of other festivals after this I remember you telling me like Hawaii festival was really cool when you win a

festival like no no that was splinter heads well when you when you win a film festival what generally happens is like a big festival like South by Southwest you will be invited to play at other festivals you know they waive the cost they don't even like they just want your movie to play at the festival because you you just wants up by Southwest so obviously there's a reason to programming so we we played I don't know we'll be played so many festivals for maybe like the next year after South by Southwest and we want a bunch and we play we play up in Boston we played a phi we played you know all over the country everywhere and we and we want a bunch of awards and it was a real like you know festivals festival goers like love the movie and what as like you know after like maybe like six months it's like alright we're going to Atlanta now now we're going to New Orleans and now we're going down to Sarasota and now we're gonna fly back up to Woodstock and we're going here but like the one call that wasn't coming was a distributor like

yeah I was gonna ask you like I can I can I do you mind me asking you what the budget was on this

we shot senate up sorry we shot blackballed for all said and done maybe $50,000

Alex Ferrari 28:08
Okay, so at this point no one's made any money yet.

Brant Sersen 28:11
No, no one's made any money and no because we haven't made we haven't made one now There hasn't been even a talk about a sale Okay, so you know, my so my producers were working on it. And I guess the feedback that he was getting was that you don't have anyone famous in your cast. You have a studio vibe movie with a with an indie look. And the distributors and there were a couple of distributors I just take that back there were some distributors that the producers were talking to, they didn't know what to do with it. They didn't know how to market it. They didn't know they just didn't know what to do. And that's basically it like it was easy as that you don't have any famous people it looks to indie we don't know what to do with this thing. We're moving on and that's what happened even though we you know, won a ton of garnered all those awards and their audience awards to like it, you know, and it so it did great with the people but you know, but studios didn't see it make any money and they passed. So how did how did how did you finally get this thing distributed? So what we ended up doing is you know, we we did get some like straight to DVD deals that were horrible. You know, it's basically like give us your movie for free. And if you ever see money, good luck, you know, but we decided let's like Hold on tight. We know we have something special and we self distributed and you know, I no one was really doing that back then. But we sort of had like a niche audience. We had the paintball audience, right? That was like and paintball at the time. Like you could walk into a Barnes and Noble and there would be five or six paintball magazines on the shelf. So you know, paintball is actually big, you know? So we were like, Alright, we have the paintball audience and we sort of like a comedy audience because we have these, you know, these comedy guys that we're actually within that year of after premiering south by They're some of them started getting traction like jack McBrayer got on 30 rock and all sudden he was famous and Rob Porter was like oh we should put Jack's face on the cover of the DVD and then we'll sell them you know you know so we did a 12 city theatrical release in small theaters you for Walt it yeah

Alex Ferrari 30:17
we'll be right back after a word from our sponsor and now back to the show

Brant Sersen 30:29
and we hired a bunch of like interns and people to work with us and we sat in an office and we made calls to like or we got on message boards and like local comedy groups in the towns that we were playing we got in touch with paintball fields and we just set up you know we just did that way and we and we played theaters and you know we did we did 12 cities total we didn't do any we did we did actually New York played I think for like two weeks at the two boots pioneer theatre when it was still around and that was and that was great. And then after that, we shout factory a big you know, DVD distributor they wanted to do like some big unique deal with us and it was money to pay back over investors and for everyone to get paid a little bit and we took that deal and they made like a big deal with with Best Buy and you know and and you know financially we everyone got their money back which I was happy about the investors and everyone made a little bit of money but then basically that was the end of that run with that movie like that it ended up like on DVD you know and I remember Netflix and then eventually I then oh then Netflix definitely picked it up. And you know and as these guys in the film have just gotten so famous now Netflix just keeps picking it up and they pay each year or each you know each quarter or whatever it the price goes up a little more which is it's been amazing

because yeah because now there's so much traction on the stars they're huge star yeah

yeah you type in Hot Tub Time Machine, you know for Rob cordrea and then you may see a little picture of you may also like blackballed you know so so it gets a lot of planes so you know, you know so i mean blackballed as a you know i to me I mean that was my my one of the best movie making experiences of my life and you know, it's been a great calling card for me and you know, it's always it you know, it sort of became this like cult phenomenon. I you know, I take meetings and people find out you did blackballed. That was like my favorite movie and you know, I hear stories how the Patriots were watching blackballed on their tour on their bus to different games like I've heard the craziest stories about this movie. So awesome man, you can still search twitter and yeah, people are just discovering it and it still holds up you know it's just it just you know, I had a great great cast and I'm

Alex Ferrari 32:53
gonna put the trailer to all your films on on the show notes and I just actually before we start talking like let me refresh my memory and I watched the trailer to the blackballed and I'm like this that's funny as hell it was it was cool to see Rob I mean Rob 4g was so young I mean he was me 20 years ago almost one on that 2015 years ago or something like that when you did it but it was just fun to see all these guys like super young but they were still them like they have their their timing and their everything was there so I was always I was always not only proud of you for doing that you know but just I was so happy that you were you know seeing a friend of mine kind of get their stuff off the ground and then get traction and then win a big fight like you're the first friend of mine that won a huge like a huge festival and that got a movie release then everything of all the people all my filmmaker friends so it was always like man that's so much fun and then and then starts the whole journey of what happens after like okay so now so be playing blackballed and your movie splinter heads there's a gap of about four years right four or five years right

Brant Sersen 34:03
there it Oh, may I see blackballed played South by Southwest 2004 we premiered splinter heads 2009

Alex Ferrari 34:12
So yeah, five years but five years so what were you doing

Brant Sersen 34:16
between premieres but um right yeah, so I stayed at Comedy Central I was still a comedy I Comedy Central at the time wasn't owned by MTV, which was great and they gave me a leave of absence to go and edit blackballed after we finished blackballed I editing. I went back to work at Comedy Central because I still need to, you know, pay the bills, right? So I stayed, I stayed and I so then I blackballed. We went through the whole thing. I went on all the film festivals, did that for a while, and I was I was working on my other script, splinter heads, while you know, touring with blackballed and working in Comedy Central, and that one was going to be another indie film, and I was working with the same producer that I worked on, I would get blackballed with it. And he was putting together the financing he actually was able to pull the financing together because of blackballed. So as soon as splinter heads got all the financing together, I gave my notice to comedy, and I never looked back. I then I I stepped into the scary world of you know, being a freelance director

Alex Ferrari 35:20
which we could talk about that in a little bit.

Brant Sersen 35:25
Yeah. So then, yeah, then split our heads.

Alex Ferrari 35:29
So Brett, how did you get splinter heads off the ground?

Brant Sersen 35:32
I Well, my producer Darren Goldberg and Chris Marsh they took the scripts they they were doing some other films that were doing fairly well in the film festival circuit and I think that a couple small sales so they actually had some investors that were looking to get into comedy and we were able to pull together we basically Yeah, we pulled together all independent financing for that movie and and that was how we got that one off the ground

Alex Ferrari 36:02
that was a fairly larger budget than 50,000

Brant Sersen 36:05
the Oh yeah. Yeah, you know what that one was, you know, just over a million okay, but for me was you know

Alex Ferrari 36:17
wait a minute that film was over that was that film was just like a little bit over a million bucks Yeah. Oh, that looks awesome. I thought I honestly thought it was like a $5 million.

Brant Sersen 36:26
No, well, look, we're one of the first movies to shoot on the red. Oh,

Alex Ferrari 36:31
and you had a good dp

Brant Sersen 36:32
we were we were and we had a great TP and we were featured heavily on the red website

Alex Ferrari 36:37
I remember being one of the first first movies that's

Brant Sersen 36:41
Yeah, yeah that movie sort of like you know that agents Okay, so you know, so what ends up happening is that movie is I write splinter heads and then we're casting and then you know, we get all of our covering agents at all the agencies and every everyone all the agencies like love it they you know, we're getting some crazy names thrown around. And you know, so I get I get Rachel Taylor who signs on and you know, some of the you know, some of these other names were I don't want to say you know, it's a lot of names were like being thrown out and they are sorry,

Alex Ferrari 37:24
yeah, you're there.

Brant Sersen 37:25
Yeah, sorry. My phone just went mazurka. Okay.

Alex Ferrari 37:29
Alright, started up.

Brant Sersen 37:30
I'm trying to think of I am trying to figure out how to answer this question of like, how this got off the ground

Alex Ferrari 37:34
working from a micro budget movie like like blackball to go into an over million dollars movie like splinter heads. What was the experience like working because I know you told me it was a very difficult shoot for yourself. Can you elaborate a little bit more about why it was a difficult shoot and what was the experience with working on a larger budget and obviously, since it was a larger budget, you must have had less control because blackball you had complete control and you could do whatever you want it because it was you this was a little bit different. So can you explain to the audience a little bit about what your experience was like working on your fur and also your first thing right off of blackballed as well so you're still you're still you're still green, you're still wet behind the ears. Yeah, a lot of ways.

Brant Sersen 38:21
Yes. Especially Yeah, okay. Well, I think in essence they're they're exactly the same a small film and a big film it's just more people and as far as like the like the day like you know, everything is exactly the same like you're the casting the way we went about everything was the same it's just on a bigger scale. And I guess the the big thing is there's there you have more cooks in the kitchen and you have a there's a lot of like levels that you have to get through to get approvals for certain things. I mean, politics You know, this producer needs to sign off on this person's yeah politics you know, like then then investors you know, like this particular movie had one very large investor that finance a big chunk of it and part of I guess the deal that was said with it with him was you know, they had to sort of sign off on certain people and that was difficult for me because they were saying no to people that I liked and so I it was that was a very difficult thing for me because I felt like I was losing control over my vision a little bit and my vision was being taken over by other people that you know, that are that are weren't getting it. And so that were that was where my the frustrations began and continued through because I was right basically, you know, it I also learned, you know, there are certain battles, you got to just really pick your battles with certain things. And I think I was picking some of the wrong ones. And, you know, that was Yeah, that those were like some frustrations with this, you know, I was able to in the end, though I, you know, I put up a huge fight about our lead actor who ultimately went to Thomas middleditch. There were some pretty big names that were circling the roll, and I wasn't feeling them. And I, you know, I saw Thomas middleditch, at this little, this little comedy club. And as he was brilliant, and I saw him and I knew right away, that was the lead of my movie, and I need to somehow make, I have to persuade everyone, I got to do hypnosis, I got to figure something out to get these guys to like, sign off on this guy. And I dragged everyone to a comedy show that he was playing, he had no idea this was happening, by the way. And I filled the audience with like, we had like five producers, a couple investors were all sitting there. And he was brilliant, thank God. And, you know, we had an audition. And we were, that was like, the one thing that I'm like most proud of is that I was able to get Thomas middleditch, you know,

Alex Ferrari 41:14
in that role, and now he's the star of Silicon Valley, right?

Brant Sersen 41:18
And then he just so happens to go on to Silicon Valley, right?

Alex Ferrari 41:22
What do you know? What do you what do you know, I know, what do you do? So that film goes on. And obviously a bigger budget gets distribution. And you also you've also premiered it at South by Southwest and you did a bunch of other stuff with that film correct?

Brant Sersen 41:37
Yeah, so so splitter edge was fantastic shoe, I was shooting on a red camera. It was incredible. I had playback on a movie, which I didn't even know what that was, you know, that it was pretty amazing. Getting some of the gourmet like the tools, you know, I gotta say, you know, that's amazing.

on a on a million dollar budget. You it's not like you just went on to a Marvel set for 200 million bucks. You This is a million dollar budget.

Yeah, no, but you know, for me, yeah, of course. No,

Alex Ferrari 42:01
exactly.

Brant Sersen 42:02
Like, yeah, that was like, Whoa, I have a giant monitor. I could see everything. And we could rewind it and look at stuff. That was it was incredible. Right. So so we finished up splinter heads. And we were asked to come and premiere at South by Southwest. And so we premiered there, and then went on and did the festival circuit, we picked up a couple awards at different festivals. And then, unfortunately, you know, that movie looked like a studio movie. I think it was a decent rom com It definitely has its fault scenarios. But you know, not not too shabby. But then the recession hit and I don't think that year 2009. I think there were like a handful of sales at Sundance that year. And I think none at South by Southwest. So it was just a horrible year for any filmmaker that premiere movie, I think, right? And that's what I remember. So, you know, we you know, we, you know, we had a digital deal. We had a DVD deal. You know, we did all you know, all those ancillary distribution deals and a couple small little international things

Alex Ferrari 43:09
in the end. Right, exactly. And then and then the movie finally make its money back. No, okay. Okay, fair enough. It. It has not okay. And that's it. It's just it was the bad timing. But yeah, so let me I was Yeah. So let me ask you a question. How was it? How was it working with Marty McFly? His mom.

Brant Sersen 43:31
Lee Thompson was fantastic. Now she was great. And, you know, that was you know, I learned a lot actually from her. Obviously, you know, she's been on a million sets. You know, she was in one of my favorite movies of all time Red Dawn. The original you know, Howard the Duck, you know, she was sharing the craziest stories about stuff but yeah, she was like a real pro. And, like, Alright, kids, get back here. We're gonna do another take, like, you know, he

Alex Ferrari 43:57
was a she was Mama. She was mama hand. Oh, she was

Brant Sersen 44:01
my mom to set for sure. But she was you know, she was amazing. And she was like, really such a hard worker. And, you know, it was a great collaboration with her.

Alex Ferrari 44:11
Sure. Awesome. So then you go from splinter heads, which was a rough experience for you creatively. And then you go to you go back to your micro budget roots with sanctorum and I remember when you called me about saying to me like yeah, I'm just gonna go off and do this horror movie and I'm like, you know, okay, I'm interested to see how it goes. So tell me a little bit about how that guy did you go back to the whole model of blackballed in the sense but just did with the horror movies.

Brant Sersen 44:39
Sorta. So yeah, so the sanatorium was kind of like a reaction to splinter heads. I was really I guess, in the dumps after splinter heads. Like I worked so hard in that movie, and I, you know, like what's up on the screen was not like my vision and was like, really depressing. And I was just thinking, if this is The way it's gonna be like, I don't want to do this, I don't want to do this anymore. And so like I went through like, there was like a little moment there where I remember I I just didn't know what I was gonna do like, what am I gonna do with my life right now because I don't like this and my director of photography on splinter heads was this guy named Michael Simmons, and Michael Simmons after splinter heads, I think basically went on and shot Paranormal Activity too. And it was after coming off a paranormal to, you know, we became good friends. He said, Brent, we should do a horror movie. And I was working with Chris Chris Gethard on the site comedy horror thing. We were like, kind of writing something. And, and, you know, I was I was thinking about it. And I'm like, you know, that would be fun. You know, I think I've never really played in that genre before. But, you know, my comedy stems from, like, practical jokes, like, practical jokes are what make me laugh the most. And, you know, I don't know, I just saw some sort of parallel with like horror and practical jokes. And like, Can I trick the audience? Can I scare them? Because I love scaring people like, and I have stupid videos of me scaring people. I have, like a whole, like, you know, right, next mixtape of that stuff, but um, I just thought, you know, yeah, I want to try this. So you know, Chris Gethard got some other gig. And I took this idea that I that we were working on, which was I took my part of it back, basically. And I teamed up with Simmons, Mike Simmons, and he said, Okay, if we're gonna do this, though, we have to do it for like, $5,000 and I'm like, You're crazy. And he's like, No, no, we got to do something as cheap as possible. So I said, perfect. You know, that's, I'm comfortable doing that. Let's do this. So, you know, I had the story all together, already put together and I went out I basically follow the blueprint of how I put together blackballed. I, I visited the same UCB theatre that you know, I spent a lot of time at I, I, I wanted to cast people that knew each other outside of comedy, you know, just they were friends I wanted you know, I wanted to get that chemistry right. So I put that movie together. We shot it for a little more than $5,000 but not much more. And we just went to one location and we shot this movie in the dead of winter.

Yeah, I saw that I saw that I saw that I saw the trailer. But wait. So how did you get that locations? Awesome. How did you get that location because that's basically your money.

Well, the one thing that everyone really needs to do in this business is relationships and keep relationships and the good thing is I I guess I'm good at that like I become friends with most people that I work with from if they were pa to location scout to a casting person, I always treat everyone with the most respect I admire what every position on every set does. And you know, I you know, because I when I was I piayed for a very short time and I was treated like like I hated the way I felt being a PA how some of these production managers were treating me and I said from that I would never treat anyone like that I would never let anyone treat anyone like that on my sets if I could control that. So you know, I think because of because of that, like you know, I've just fostered these relationships over the years with key people in different departments. So you know, when we needed a abandoned hospital I called the location scout that I knew from splitter heads and I was like Hey Tom, you know this is I'm doing this little tiny movie you know, I'm looking at this thing and he's like, and he was like Yeah, man, let me let me do this with you I'm down let's do it. You know, and it was easy as that and you know, we drove around all around all the different boroughs in New York City and outside of the city until we found this one place just just about 45 minutes north of New York City. And yeah, that's that was our location

Alex Ferrari 49:01
and I have to ask like, did they charge you because I know when I did broken that you know and I did broken that whole my whole movie was based around this one hospital which was not an abandoned hospital was an actually functioning tuberculosis hospital on the floors three four and five but floors to one and the basement were abandoned and that's why I got that cool look and and they originally were going to charge me like 500 bucks, but at the end of the whole week and a half that I was there, they were just like No, just don't pay us it's fine. So I added that $5,000 budget I'm just trying to break it down like what was the cost anything? A little bit You don't have to say numbers, but just the the cost?

Brant Sersen 49:41
Yeah, no, no, no, that that it costs Yeah, it costs something. It costs. I think same thing. 500 bucks. I think it was like, I mean, it's always great when you go you go to a place where films are not shot. You know, people like they love it. They love the excitement. So there were these There are all these abandoned buildings there, there are over 50 abandoned buildings on this property. And three of them were like in use for different reasons. And there was like, you know, someone from the town had their offices there and, and this woman's like, yeah, you can do it. This will be fun. Oh, give me something to do. You know if you guys are here, right? Oh, you know, she's like, I don't know, how long are you going to be here? We're like, three weeks. She's like, okay, 500 bucks sound good. We're like, deal, you know, because we were looking at places that wanted to charge us $10,000 a day of course, which was you know, closer to the city. So we had full rein of they gave us well, there were three safe buildings that didn't have a specialist in them that were going but we had full rein. Yeah, and you know, yeah, that's how that happened.

That's a pretty creepy movie. I mean, did you guys get creeped out in that movie in that and that's it?

Yeah, you know look, we were there. We were three weeks we were we spent most nights in there you know, Ghost Adventures. The ghost hunting show actually did an episode in one of the buildings that we used like you know, six months after we shot and they picked up some pretty crazy stuff during that show. Like Yeah, lots of a lot of craziness. A lot of crazy stuff. So yeah, who knows? You know, we definitely heard some things but like, I think you know, I don't know.

Alex Ferrari 51:21
Did you crazy? Did you jump but yeah, did you jump genres? Because from comedy to horror to kind of prove that you can kind of do that and not pigeonhole yourself into comedy?

Brant Sersen 51:34
No, you know, like there's only so much you could do with the camera with comedy. Yeah, because I did some commercials and stuff to sorry like in between films and stuff. Other comedy stuff you know, I just found like I was just you put a cat you set up your your wide or medium your close and you're kind of just providing a stage you know, for your comedians to perform on and I want to explore with something more visual because when I first got into the business I wanted to do music videos and commercials like I wanted to follow in the footsteps of Fincher and spike Jones and I felt like the stuff that I was doing I wasn't allowed to do that stuff like you don't really see any you don't see me stylized comedies you know rarely see many of them you know you rarely do and i don't know i you know i i never want to just be the comedy guy I don't know how I fell into comedy honestly. But um but I want to explore other genres and you know, and I'm not the biggest like I don't like blood and guts you know, I'll pass out with that stuff you know, but like I love scaring people and I felt like I don't know I just saw a parallel between you know, when you're doing you're setting up a scene to do a scare it was very similar to how you were setting up a joke. I don't know I just found something that was that felt familiar, but felt very different. And shooting Santorum, you know, it was found footage, you know, we you know, we shot this thing. You know, honestly, before the wave of found footage, movies, like, filled, you know, your Netflix queue, we it just took us a while to finish the movie, because everyone was working for free. So my editor was working for free. Everyone had points and that's how we did it. But his schedule was nuts. So it took us almost two years to finish that movie. And in that within that two years, like a billion found footage movies came out. And you know, and you'll see some criticism of my movie like, Oh, this is grave encounters, you know, like, oh, they're copying grave encounters. And I want to just be like, yeah, buddy, we shot this way before grave encounters. We just couldn't get it out, and, and also Lionsgate and ultimately bought the film we had, for whatever reason, we had a little bidding war, between Lionsgate and this other company, and Lionsgate got it and but then they they held on to it for like a year or so. And then we watched more of the same site type of movie come out and it's like, oh my god released the frickin movie already. You know? And then they finally did. And you know, it seems to get positive reviews. But I'll tell you what, Alex, that was like the best thing that ever happened to me because like it like I'm back now. You know, like that movie brought me back.

Alex Ferrari 54:07
No, I did. I actually just saw an interview the other day with the Guillermo del Toro. And he was talking about, it's funny that I've seen, I see a kind of a pattern with filmmakers, that they'll have their first movie that they do, which they have complete control of. It's awesome that people go crazy for it and they'd love it. And then they get offered a bigger movie, which they have a horrible time on because they have no control of and with Guillermo del Toro, it was mimic. mimic was the first studio movie he did after Kronos and Harvey Weinstein just beat the hell out of them. To the point where he almost like after after mimic, he was like you, he's like, I don't want to know how am I going to do that he was completely destroyed. And he realized that he needed to go back to what he knew. So he did Devil's backbone. But the funny thing is he was offered blade to before devils black bone. And he literally said no to new line. He said, Look, if you want me, you'll wait for me because he said that he had to get his creative juices back. Like to get as an artist as a human being he was destroyed his soul. He said, his artistic soul had been destroyed through the process of mimic. And I know a lot of that was happening happened to you now with splinter head. So yeah, sanctorum was kind of like the that kind of response to that. And then his was devil, but Devil's backbone. And then after Devil's backbone, he went right into blade two, but that at that point he got He's like, I would have never been able to make blade to like without that. So which brings us into your next project. Can you tell us a little bit about your latest project you're working on?

Brant Sersen 55:49
Yeah, I could tell you a little bit. Yes. So it only took 20 years. But I got my first I guess they call it open directing assignment. I was a, I know, after doing Santorum, I got new agents and a new manager. And there's been like a little shift in focus for what I like what I want to do and what they want to see me do. I was presented this one project who was looking for they were looking for a writer slash director. And, you know, I went up against a bunch of dudes, a bunch of other directors, and I guess I, you know, they liked my ideas. And I went through, you know, three rounds of basically pitching, interviewing, wooing, trying to convince them that my ideas are great. I got the phone call, you know, it was like, it was kind of like an amazing moment. Actually, I was like, just got home and I walked in the door, I see this Beverly Hills phone number, and I pick it up, and that's the producers. And they're like, hey, Brent, we we'd love for you to come aboard and direct this movie. And it was like, Oh, my God, like, you know, because I really liked the project. The people involved are incredible. And but yeah, an amazing moment. So yeah, it's a it's a it's a, it's a horror film. It's sort of in the vein of I guess you could call it a project x meets paranormal activity. And, you know, we're actually we're casting now, and we're gonna probably go into pre production, and then a few weeks and

then this is us. This is kind of it's a it's not a studio film, but it's a fairly large budget film.

It's a fair Yeah, this will be my biggest budget film ever. And I have some pretty big players. I could just tell you two of my executive producers are Michael Lin and Bob Shea. And the bob Shea, the bob Shea so yeah, they're they they did this little franchise called Lord of the Rings. I don't know if you're but yeah,

for everybody who doesn't know who Bob Shea is Google him. But he basically used to run New Line Cinema,

Bob's and they both did and but those guys they've produced 500 something movies together. And yeah, I think right before they sold new line, Lord of the Rings was their last film. So the way to go out a nice way to go out so now they've started this new company called unique pictures, and they're in the old new line offices. And this will be one of their first movies that they make under this banner. So yeah, pretty amazing.

That's what these guys so your it took you 20 years to be an overnight success is what you're telling me?

Oh, total overnight success. lesson is don't ever, ever give up. Don't ever give up. If you're passionate about filmmaking, just keep doing it. Don't ever ever stop. You're gonna, like, be depressed, you're gonna go through so many emotional stages, but you just got to keep pushing forward. And you know, and know that no one is ever going to help you, the only person that will help you is yourself. And you know, really like stick to your gut and like, Listen to your gut. And, you know, if you don't like an actor for a role, just say no. I wish I said no, you know, but I had to say yes, but I wish I said no, you know,

Alex Ferrari 58:58
And don't be afraid to say no, it's a lot of a lot of filmmakers who when they are giving an opportunity, they they just kind of become Yes Men, because they don't want to lose their opportunity to be in a movie set or to direct, you know, to direct the feature or anything like that. And a lot of times, they just will keep saying yes, because that's it. But the thing is that the directors who make it are the ones who have a vision, who are the ones who do have a strong personality. Like the Guillermo del Toro's of the world and the David Fincher of the world and those guys that just say, no, this is not the way it's supposed to be. And I think you learned that the hard way.

Brant Sersen 59:32
I learned the hard way. I wish I said no. A lot more times during spinnerets it probably wouldn't I would have been more satisfied with the filming. But yeah,

Alex Ferrari 59:44
So last question. This is a very difficult question I asked all of my my guests. What is your top three films of all time?

Brant Sersen 59:54
Oh, God.

Alex Ferrari 59:57
Choose no no specific order. Just go ahead.

Brant Sersen 1:00:00
too I could tell you two off the bat there's a movie Lehane there's a movie once were warriors

Alex Ferrari 1:00:07
Oh yeah once warriors it's good

Brant Sersen 1:00:11
And man the third one it's a tough one man I know it's like do you say like I don't know Ummm..

Alex Ferrari 1:00:17
Just pick one that tickles your fancy man that's it's not about you know you're not getting an award after this dont worry

Brant Sersen 1:00:25
Not like sound film snobby or anything there's just one documentary that really like influenced me a lot It was American movie.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:32
Oh, I remember American movie Yeah, that makes a lot of sense after seeing a black wall than an American movie

Brant Sersen 1:00:38
Yeah that was that was yeah that was that was like a though I you know it's kind of funny now after saying those those three movies were like big game changers for me they really changed the way that I looked at cinema. And you know, I Pulp Fiction sort of took over the spotlight of once were warriors when it came out but when I was down in Miami we got a free pass to see this movie and I went to see it and I sat there with my mouth open the whole time like yeah, New Zealand it's

Alex Ferrari 1:01:04
A New Zealand film

Brant Sersen 1:01:05
Yeah incredible you know the hain was another one that was just incredible and American movie was Yeah, that those three movies sort of like shaped me That's weird. Yeah, just Thanks Alex. This is a therapy just like yeah, just figure some stuff.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:20
So any other final words of advice to tell young or just a new independent filmmakers trying to get get their stuff off the ground?

Brant Sersen 1:01:29
Yeah, you know don't like like I said don't give up but like you got to you. Relationships are key in this business and if you don't have the relationships it's gonna be hard to do to get far because he can't do it all by herself. Now it's such a collaborative art you know, field that you know just foster those relationships keep them and and just don't ever you know, give up on you know, your dream or your idea and, and say no, every once in a while.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:00
Brant man, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to the indie film tribe by indie film hustle tribe. I really appreciate it was great catching up with you, man.

Brant Sersen 1:02:09
Thanks, Alex.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:10
It's always nice to hear other filmmakers journeys to kind of see what other people are going through so you don't feel so alone. In this crazy journey of being an artist and a filmmaker and especially when you're hearing it from an old friend. It was wonderful talking to Brent and I wish him nothing but the best and if you can definitely check out in the show notes. The trailer for Bobby Dukes are about blackballed the bobby Duke story as well as splinter heads and Centurion and you could check out the show notes at indiefilmhustle.com/035. And don't forget to head over to filmmakingpodcast.com to leave us an honest review. It really helps to show out a lot. Thank you guys so much for listening. I hope you guys got a bunch of information out of that at least got inspired to go off and tell your own story. So keep that also going keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you soon.

YOUTUBE VIDEO

LINKS

SPONSORS

  1. Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  2. AudibleGet a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook
  3. Rev.com – $1.25 Closed Captions for Indie Filmmakers – Rev ($10 Off Your First Order)